BABY DRIVER Review
Director: Edgar Wright
It’s 10:30pm. I’m leaving the cinema. I get into my car. I roll out of the carpark. Khaled’s “Didi” starts blaring through my car speakers. I turn it up. To 30. No, to 40. I’m in a good mood. I drive up Beverly Glen, swirling through the canyon roads, towards Mulholland Dr. I go fast. Real fast. It’s dangerous. But man, it feels really good. In the distance I spot a Prius. Speeding down the road, I wish I could overtake it, but there’s no passing lane on this narrow street. Halt. I’m stuck. Driving a solid 25mph, a good 10 under the speed limit for those that don’t know. God, this is a bummer. I felt so cool. Upset, I reach home, get out of my car, and look back. I’ve been driving a candy red Fiat 500x. I’m pretty damn lame myself. But I just saw BABY DRIVER, so goddamnit, I’m going to feel cool as shit for the next 24 hours.
To those that know me, it is no surprise that Edgar Wright is my MVP amongst modern auteurs. SHAUN OF THE DEAD quite literally changed my life, probably the only film I’ve seen upwards of eight times (and that’s a lot, because I’m a grump who never rewatches films). HOT FUZZ still registers as the single greatest parody film of the 21st century, perhaps of all time. And SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD is the most aesthetically pristine, gloriously inventive visual comedy of our generation. And then there was THE WORLD’S END. That was pretty cool too. So yes, I’m an Edgar Wright fanboy. So much so that even as a disgruntled Marvel naysayer I was extremely excited for ANT-MAN. So seeing his latest release, BABY DRIVER, with an introduction from the man himself, was the closest thing to heaven I’ve felt in quite some time.
My proudest moment. Also follow me @immigrantfilm please
But here’s the rub: I’m also a mean dude who tries his darnedest to objectively evaluate everything he sees. So I wasn’t going to let my Wright-facing boner cloud my judgement of the man’s work. Thankfully, BABY DRIVER is great. And I mean really, really great. It propels itself with a momentum that no Fast and Furious film has mustered up, is peppered with deadpan deliveries that airbrush its canvas in a thick veneer of biting sarcasm, and utilizes its outstanding ensemble to the best of their abilities. Naturally, Wright’s camera flies, spins, rolls, and tracks its story with the precision expected of the 43-year-old Brit, boasting more aesthetic panache than a movie theatre’s entire summer lineup. Any critique uttered here forth is only in relation to Wright’s exceptional catalogue. Had any other director made this film, it would easily be the best work of their entire career.
BABY DRIVER confidently rests as Wright’s fourth-best work, which is still pretty outstanding. It’s not as hysterical as HOT FUZZ, not as heartfelt as SHAUN OF THE DEAD, and not quite as aesthetically precise as SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD. But it should be noted that BABY DRIVER squarely registers as an action film first and foremost, using its comedy to pump up any otherwise limp scenes. Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and Lily James all sport an on-screen chemistry that brings their wacky characters to life. There is a stylistic precision in every spoken word that really elevates this film. Few blockbusters think through the timing of line deliveries and the way edits and camera angles can accentuate an emotional high or low. BABY DRIVER feels more in tune with this than any film I’ve seen in recent memory. It is Antarctically cool.
This is made doubly effective by Edgar Wright’s music selection, a playlist that I can only assume came from his personal iTunes account. Ever since Vin Diesel’s automotive series took off I’ve been insisting on more pop, rock, and hip hop during the actual spectacle. Fast and Furious has a stellar track record for its Cubano-infused opening and closing music sequences, but rarely takes full advantage of this soundtrack in its vehicular warfare. If George Miller perfected the use of camerawork in a biblical car chase, Wright has taken musical incorporation to a whole other level. The rhythms of BABY DRIVER are so in sync with its auditory accompaniment that the two are impossible to separate. No edit feels nauseating, no whip pan too confusing, and it’s all accomplished through its use of ingenious sound design.
Wright’s compositional control is also out of this world. In a oner that directly riffs on SHAUN OF THE DEAD’s supermarket sequence, we track our eponymous lead as he grabs coffee for his team. The ludicrous blocking and timed interactions are all perfectly synchronized with the music that is blaring through our character’s headphones. And Wright doesn’t stop there. His action scenes feel directly lifted out of a Tarantino caper, constantly moving and dazzling in their precision. It is an absolute feat of cinematographic talent. In fact, it often does register as a Tarantino-esque tribute to Walter Hill’s THE DRIVER rather than an Edgar Wright film, and it’s all the better for it. It’s wonderfully unique and breathtakingly entertaining! Wright continues to reference himself with a sequence involving exposition being delivered through switching television channels. It’s all charming and rather clever, though it’s been seen before (from the same filmmaker, no less).
We’ll see what he does with the sequel to MIAMI VICE
But it’s not all rain and sunshine with BABY DRIVER. Despite all of its formal precisions, there is a distinct structural imperfection in its screenplay. Certain characters feel irrelevant or entirely unnecessary, notably Jon Bernthal, who delivers one of the film’s best performances, only to be entirely cast aside after the first heist. Each interior warehouse sequence feels rather lazily executed, allowing its camera to float left to right without a clear end goal. Each character listens or delivers their necessary lines of dialogue, and it’s always entertaining, but it’s not up to Wright standards. What audiences absolutely shouldn’t expect is to roll on the floor laughing. BABY DRIVER is funny, sometimes really funny, but its romantic arc and Elgort’s transition are front and center here. But fear not, there’s nothing to be disappointed about, because it is ultimately miles ahead of your run-of-the-mill Hollywood blockbuster.
I can happily declare that BABY DRIVER is Wright on track to being the man’s most exhilarating blockbuster to date, a film we dearly need in a cinematic climate polluted by blandly shot action capers. It is the next best thing since MAD MAX: FURY ROAD showed everyone how to film a car chase. Each sequence chugs and speeds through its set pieces like a speeding bullet, reaching its climax with not a wasted second. And thanks to this, its narrative, and occasionally formal, imperfections are negated by Wright’s outstanding precision and the charisma of his ensemble. Wright knows exactly what to do with his film. So is BABY DRIVER perfect? Far from it. But it got me to drive myself home while averaging a solid 90mph. So it’s doing something right. For what it’s worth, BABY DRIVER is a terrible role model, and a damn cool film.