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BABY DRIVER (2017) review

October 16, 2017

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written by: Edgar Wright
produced by: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Nira Park
directed by: Edgar Wright
rated: R (for violence and language throughout)
runtime: 113 min.
U.S. release date: June 28, 2017

DVD/Blu-ray release date: October 10, 2017

 

Surprise surprise! It’s actually been a good movie summer! But the bigger (and most welcome) surprise is the handful of quality features released amongst the few solid big-budget superhero blockbusters (“Wonder Woman” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming”) and the one worthy CGI-heavy franchise extending sequel (“War for the Planet of the Apes”), and it just so happens that three of them were heist flicks. None of them were sequels, reboots or remakes and one of them was the eagerly-awaited “Baby Driver”, the inventive and highly-entertaining new movie from writer/director Edgar Wright. It’s an aggressive comedy heist that merges a specific musical playlist with acutely choreographed action in an infectious manner, like an adrenalized musical, making it one of the most memorable movies of the year.

Baby Driver (Ansel Elgort) is a skilled driver working off a debt for Atlanta crime boss, Doc (Kevin Spacey), as the wheelman for various methodically planned heists. To drown out tinnitus he developed from a childhood accident that killed his parents, Baby always has music playing through his earbuds, rarely saying a word to Doc or the bank robbers he’s teamed with. Teamed with eclectic crew members of Doc’s gang – such as the antagonizing Griff (Jon Bernthal) and “No-nose” Eddie (Flea), as well as mainstays, Buddy (Jon Hamm), his wife, Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), and the impulsive and violent, Bats (Jamie Foxx) – Baby stays focused and committed to each job, while taking care of his deaf foster father, Joseph (CJ Jones), on the side.

 

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As he closes in on paying off his dept, Baby meets waitress Debra (Lily James) at a local diner and as the two hit it off and consider running away together. But Doc, whose been somewhat protective toward Baby yet flips his lid when he learns Baby wants out, isn’t willing to say goodbye to his prized driver and the whole situation intensifies as Baby maneuvers obstacles as he does his best to keep himself and those he holds dear alive, out of trouble and maybe with some stolen cash.

Sure, the story may sound familiar, but it’s all in how Wright presents it that makes it such a blast. There’s an immediate appreciation for how Wright brings everything together in such sublime synchronicity. Every aspect of filmmaking in “Baby Driver”, the camerawork, the editing, the sound mixing and so on…it’s such a deliberate marriage that it’s hard to complain about how his screenplay isn’t this wholly original offering. It ultimately doesn’t matter familiar heist conventions can be found or certain character tropes are noticed, since what Wright has his characters doing makes up for any of that. If you look at Wright’s earlier movies, like “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”, he lovingly includes genre conventions in them as well (zombie and buddy cop genres, respectively), but again, how those characters behaved and who portrayed them more than made up for any familiarity in the story and that’s what’s happening here.

That the heavy inclusion of music is tied directly to who the title character is, as well as the what and how he does what he does is a unique and infectious approach to getting to  to get to know who Baby Driver is. He’s not just a music aficionado, its an essential part of his functionality as he uses songs (including Queen, Young MC, T. Rex, and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion) to block out the persistent noise that fills his hearing, but also because of his love for music, which lends a coolness to Baby. The music he uses is a tool during his wheelman duties, helping him focus during each job and allowing him to successfully dodge police and avert civilians as his getaway vehicle slides through the streets of Atlanta. His pockets are lined with several iPods, each one with a specific playlist that’s just right for each job and he also carries an audio recorder with him as well, which he uses to secretly record those around him, splicing their audio into (such as Spacey’s Doc) into remixes of his own creation.

 

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Music and the love it is used in surprising and exceptional ways in “Baby Driver” and the most noteworthy use is how Wright syncs music beats to the shootouts we see in the third act, with gunfire acting as extra percussion during standoffs, adding to an already insane atmosphere of chaos.

To really get “Baby Driver” requires an appreciation for the artistry of editors Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss (frequent collaborators with Wright) and cinematographer Bill Pope (who worked on Wright’s last two films, as well as the “Matrix” trilogy) on display here. Wright may be behind the wheel of “Baby Driver”, but this trio are underneath the hood, making sure everything is fine tuned and running just right. It’s that rare movie where the gimmick works and is impressively realized, in this case. It’s essentially Wright doing what Baby does in the movie, offering viewers a contagious visual and aural mixtape for almost every frame that’s a pure delight to behold.

Wright isn’t just relying on amazing car chases in “Baby Driver”, there’s an unbelievably choreographed chase seen where Elgort’s Baby has to get out of his car rely on his feet instead of a gas pedal to escape his pursuers. It’s a great way of mixing up the action, while also upping the stakes and investing the audience even more in the characters. It’s just another sequence that makes the movie one of the most dazzling experiences at the cinema this year. It’d be a crime if “Baby Driver” isn’t remembered during the Oscars next year, at least in the Sound Mixing and Sound Editing categories.

 

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The cast of “Baby Driver” is impressively assembled, with performances that are just as in sync with the rhythm of the movie as the music is. Spacey and his hired goons (like a scenery-chewing Bernthal) provide broad villainy to set themselves apart from the world Baby has created for himself. Elgort is unconventionally cast here, in a role that would typically go to someone who looks cool – instead of someone who has an, ahem, baby face  – but his character is odd and different enough that it works. His gradual chemistry with Lily James is convincing, even if there’s really not much to the character of Deborah except for providing another motivation for Baby to get out from under Doc. The actor who steals just about every scene he’s in is Jamie Foxx, who not only has some hilarious lines during the heist planning scenes, but his expressive responses are just as infectious as the anything that comes out of his mouth. It’s a blast to watch Foxx and the contentious husband-and-wife characters that Hamm and Gonzalez give each other a hard time and eventually go at each other with aggressive hostility.

Throughout the movie, Wright never lets up on the silly and wild craziness that epitomizes the tone of “Baby Driver” and while some may have a problem with this, I was on board with it the entire time. There are rare moments, usually between Baby and Debora, where we slow down and watch these two connect, but there’s always a tension right around the corner. “Baby Driver” is crazy fun with an intact sense of humor and bursts of bloodlust, but it’s at its best when its running at top speed, which is fortunately what its doing often.

A friend of mine always approaches me asking, “Hey, are there any good action movies out there?” (imagine that said in a spot-on Chicago accent) and I always kind of shrug. I know he’s the kind of guy who’d get a kick out of something like “The Hitman’s Bodyguard”, but I’d rather point him toward something as exhilarating and surprising as this. I would also get a kick out of the fact that he’d unknowingly be watching a musical.

 

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RATING: ***1/2

 

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 16, 2017 3:47 am

    Great review. I loved this movie. Its like soundtrack that had a movie made to go with it.
    I watched it a few times and noticed more with each additional viewing like that scene when he is going to buy coffee.

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