In the opening credits of Baby Driver, the latest from filmmaker Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim v. the World) there’s a choreographer acknowledged among the various producers and crew. After a spectacular opening heist scene – a three-man bank robbery and a getaway of masterful stunt driving through downtown Atlanta (and nary a tap shoe in sight) – the credit might seem a bit odd. But so carefully crafted is Wright’s original screenplay about a music-obsessed getaway car driver and his attempt to go straight that enlisting the same guy who choreographed Sia’s best videos makes perfect sense.
Immediately after the opening credits, that choreography is beautifully and immediately apparent in an uninterrupted long shot that takes us on a post-heist coffee run with our protagonist, Baby (Ansel Elgort). Just ten minutes in and we’re watching the camera follow Baby seamlessly down the street, into the shop and back to the warehouse where his heist crew and boss split their take from the recent job. Along the way, extras pop in and out of perfectly framed shots, the film’s soundtrack aligns directly with each movement and there’s even a bit of foreshadowing as Baby notices a blonde outside the coffee shop (on a music swell, no less). It’s a dance as skilled as any of Gene Kelly’s, and from the get go, it’s obvious: this is a filmmaker who loves making movies, and he’s not afraid to show off.
Wright started drafting this film back in 1995, but it only made its way into the world earlier this year at SXSW, where it was met with raucous fan-boy adulation, such is Wright’s genre (and one assumes largely male) fan base. As it opens in theaters this week, the positive buzz is sure to continue to the tune of a nice big box office. It’s that rare accomplishment of original filmmaking that checks nearly ever box. Solid, high-stakes story: check. Great soundtrack: check. Impressive action scenes: check. Love story: check. Though it gets a bit muddled by the end as Wright rushes through wrapping up various loose ends, he’s more than made up for it with his meticulous attention to detail and sheer enthusiasm that jumps off the screen.
Elgort is Baby – you know, b-a-b-y – an unassuming kid with a talent behind the wheel and a juvenile record. When he inadvertently jacks a crime boss’s car, he’s coerced into driving for Doc’s (Kevin Spacey) crew until he pays off his debt. And drive he does, maneuvering through city streets and highways like the proverbial bat out of hell, notching up a spotless record for getting his bank-robbing colleagues out of sticky situations. There’s seemingly no obstacle he can’t overcome, no police chase he can’t out-drive, especially with the help of his perfectly-crafted personal soundtrack. Baby’s not in a corner (yet), but he’s got tinnitus from a car accident as a kid. So while he doesn’t say much, he’s never without his earbuds and a selection of iPods to choose the perfect song from. (There’s a curious case of what might be called “modern nostalgia” in one scene as Baby remembers receiving his very first iPod. Are they so old that they are things of the good ol’ days now? Yeesh.)
He’s at the local diner after the latest job when the blonde from the coffee shop reappears as his waitress, and their chemistry is instant. The kid without much to live for suddenly has a girl to look out for, and with his final job completed and out of Doc’s debt, he’s ready to start thinking about a life beyond the front seat of the get-away car. Of course, it won’t be that easy for Doc to give up his “lucky charm,” so Baby finds himself back at the warehouse with a crew anxious to complete their biggest job yet.
The crew is mainly Jamie Foxx as Bats, a rough and tumble bad seed who’s been around the block and doesn’t trust anyone further than he can throw them; and Jon Hamm as Buddy, a guy too cool for school with a punk-rock shaved head and a clingy but bad-ass wife (Eiza González) complete matching neck tattoos. Though they all ostensibly work together, they’re ultimately in it for themselves, and it’s that every-man-for-himself attitude that brings it all crashing down around Baby. The final third of the film is a bit of an over-packed chaotic mess, but credit to Wright for going there, never losing sight of the kind of film he’s making. It’s so well choreographed, in fact, that even the gunshots land on beat. Turns out, this car-chase crime story is a musical in disguise, even if none of the characters ever break out into song.
Baby Driver the kind of gift to audiences that comes to life when a filmmaker who loves movies lets himself have a little fun. It’s what Wright has built his career on, after all. If you don’t enjoy yourself watching his earlier stuff…well here, let me help pull that stick out of your rear-end. This time around, he’s got a track record that surely helped up the ante for the production budget (IMDb lists over 80 crew members in the stunt department alone!), and a reputation behind the camera that attracted a cast of all-stars (Lily James stars as the waitress Debora and even Flea cameos as one of the criminals). Wright has packed every frame of his film with character and action and heart, with his foot on the gas pedal from the get-go. It’s a dance, a chase, a roller coaster ride. It’s a blast.
BABY DRIVER – dir Edgar Wright. Written by Edgar Wright. Starring Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Lilly James. Opens Wednesday, June 28. Official Site
Passes the Bechdel Test: No
Passes the DuVernay Test: Yes