Imagine a musical where nobody sings – sounds impossible, right? Well, I guess that means director Edgar Wright has done the impossible since Baby Driver is as close to a non-musical musical as possible: a high-octane car chase flick as dependent on its killer soundtrack as any sing-along feature. And while it’s an experiment that doesn’t always work, Baby Driver ultimately overcomes a few bum notes to deliver a funny and kinetic romp that’s unlike any blockbuster film in recent memory.
Baby Driver introduces us to Baby (Ansel Elgort), a slick getaway driver afflicted with tinnitus so intense that only a constant stream of music can keep it under control. Baby is indebted to gangland figure Doc (Kevin Spacey), who masterminds the bank jobs that require Baby’s talents behind the wheel.
After finally repaying his debt to Doc, Baby resolves to go straight and soon strikes up a relationship with kind-hearted waitress Debora (Lily James). Everything is starting to look rosy for Baby, until Doc goes back on his word and demands Baby join his crew – easy-going thief Buddy (Jon Hamm), femme fatale Darling (Eiza González), trigger-happy psycho Bats (Jamie Foxx) and hired muscle Griff (Jon Bernthal) – for one last heist.
If Baby refuses, there will be dire consequences for Debora and his deaf foster father Joseph (CJ Jones), but returning to a life of crime could prove equally deadly for Baby himself.
Edgar Wright knows how to tell a cracking story, and Baby Driver showcases all the charms of a Wright-penned screenplay. It’s solidly constructed (overlooking a slightly ropey, overlong third act), easy to follow, and, above all, fun. More importantly, unlike most big budget popcorn flicks, Baby Driver actually cares about its characters. Wright clearly wants us to root for Baby and Debora, and ensures we never lose sight of them even when the action set pieces – all of which showcase his trademark visual flair and affection for practical stunt work – kick in.
A large part of this is down to the casting. While Wright is equally adept at handling intimate moments as he is spectacular car chases – this is the guy who started out with low-budget, actor-centric fare like Spaced and Shaun of the Dead, after all – he’s assembled a troupe of performers capable of bringing added weight to proceedings. Heavyweights like Spacey and Foxx make the biggest impression, however, it’s relative newcomers Elgort and James provide the emotional bedrock that ultimately gets Baby Driver across the line.
Of course, the real stars here are the music and editing. Composer Steven Price and editors Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos have coordinated the movie’s licensed soundtrack with Bill Pope’s dynamic cinematography like a perfectly choreographed dance routine. Every camera move and gunshot, every facial twitch and tire drift is precisely matched to one of the classic tracks in Baby Driver, and it’s exhilarating to behold.
Which isn’t to say that Baby Driver is perfect.
As I hinted at earlier, the film’s home stretch does have a few bumps in the road, as events become increasingly implausible and the leaps in logic regarding the narrative and characterisation start to stack up. The climax also drags on for far too long; it’s as if Wright wants to make sure we get enough bang for our car chase buck.
Even so, the film’s first two-thirds are such a blast, you’ll probably be willing to overlook any dents in the fender its final act has. Besides, flawed or not, Baby Driver is exactly the kind of blockbuster we need more of right now: an original, well-crafted, and entertaining movie that marches to its own unique beat.