Literally driven along by its soundtrack, Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver boasts style, class and energy to provide a glorious and meticulously choreographed thrill ride. Its operatic chase scenes and action sequences see engines rev, cars crash and guns fire all set to the top-tapping tempo of the retro jukebox.
After suffering trauma following a car crash in which he lost both his mother and father, Baby (Ansel Elgort) took to a life of stealing cars and joyriding. The accident also left him with tinnitus causing a constant ringing in his ears, which he drowns out by listening to music. Baby has found himself embroiled in a criminal underworld working for Doc (Kevin Spacey) as his number one get away driver in order to pay off a debt. Yet with his debt nearly paid, Doc isn’t ready to let him go especially now that dangerous criminals, Bats (Jamie Foxx) and Buddy (Jon Hamm), have seen what he is capable of. To complicate matters further Baby has just met Debora (Lily James), a waitress in the diner where his mother used to work, and wishes for nothing more than to drive into the sunset “in a car I can’t afford with a plan I don’t have.”
It is Edgar Wright’s singular vision as director and sole writing credit that I believe is pivotal to this film’s success. If you look back at Wright’s previous films, Baby Driver is a hot-wheeled heist hybrid of the musical fantasies of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and the comedic fun from his Cornetto Trilogy.
From its opening scene, you get a real sense of what you are in for. A tense bank robbery set up, tonally similar to that of Drive (2011), only for the tension to be broken by a lip-syncing getaway driver, dancing in his car whilst he waits. Shortly followed by a high-octane chase sequence that wouldn’t have been out of place in the French Connection (1971). Yet it is Walter Hill’s The Driver (1978) that Wright’s film owes its biggest debt, which influenced the many chase sequences in Baby Driver with Hill even making a cameo appearance. If you also throw into the mix a Bonnie and Clyde romance, an Austin Powers gag and there is enough homage and popular culture references to rival any Quentin Tarantino movie.
The soundtrack propels the film forward with each song carefully selected for its inclusion. Whether it is the actor’s movements or the impressive set pieces, all are calculated with such precise sychronisity and edited in time to the beat of the film’s songs. By using music as an escape for Baby from his past and for setting the rhythm, it becomes the heartbeat for the film.
An impressive cast features a star making performance from Ansel Elgort who has buckets of charm and great chemistry with Lily James despite her being slightly underused. Kevin Spacey gives the film its gravitas with his usual tenacious and commanding demeanor. Yet it is Jamie Foxx and John Hamm who make the most of their screen time with their menacing unhinged comic book villainy.
Baby Driver is a cinematic crowd pleaser with all the hallmarks of a musical and the balls to reference genre classics whilst still cutting its own groove. It’s a fast paced, smart and creative symphony of sound with so much infectious energy. Edgar Wright has crafted an entertaining thrill ride of pop-culture filmmaking.