Comedies are so flatly directed these days. While many aim for the improvised laugh style of Judd Apatow, they hardly get the type of visual vibrancy that can really enhance a joke. While his latest isn’t a flat out comedy, writer/director Edgar Wright still displays his usual panache in both funny and brutal ways throughout Baby Driver. After a brief delay caused by production problems on Ant-Man, Wright shows off his skills as a true auteur with a vision as Baby Driver commits to the type of carefully crafted filmmaking Wright does best. There’s clearly inspiration all over the place, mainly for 60s/70s car chase films like Bullitt that show Wright is a fan of that era. Yet, the story has a modern digital sheen and colorful display of confidence that speaks to his specific abilities as a director.
Given its premise of a getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) getting mixed up in his final-job-gone-wrong, the story of Baby Driver isn’t an unfamiliar one. The basic plot is more than a bit predictable, showing that Wright – who has a sole writing credit for the first time in his career – is far more focused on the details rather than building too elaborate a story. There aren’t as many of the perfectly set up and called back jokes or moments that he and Simon Pegg put into the scripts for Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead. Yet, it’s not like the story built by Wright here is lazy or poorly plotted because it’s simple. The story provides solid terrain for the set pieces and moments of pure adrenaline to drive on as things become more chaotically visual along the way. A fable of searching for a better life that collides our characters into one another. We’re given enough to feel invested in our titular driver and his struggles with a life he’s grown accustomed to. His relationships with his boss/mentor (Kevin Spacey) or his newfound love interest (Lily James) are both simple on the surface, but have enough charm and grey morality to keep the drama going on when pedal isn’t being put to the metal.
Besides, that pedal metaling is what Baby Driver aims to mainly sell and boy is that sold so damn well. Baby Driver has such meticulous craft to every single frame. Not just with how a car chase scene is shot, which is immaculate in every instance. It’s also in the flow of the editing, which gives us the type of brilliant beat-for-beat set up that has been missing from so many modern action films. Every single chase and action scene has this meticulous timing. Quick cuts to show impact, long takes to show the incredibly tense intricate stunt work.Not some chopped-to-oblivious exercise in headaches that passes for modern action film editing. All of this is shot with a poppy sense of lively adventure by Bill Pope. Each moment has pinpoint purpose that Wright lacks any delusion about.
All of this is extenuated by the various other technical elements. The sound design hits a chord so deep that it penetrates the spine as one sits to watch. Every song on the soundtrack gives the most propulsive slap to the eardrums that speaks wonderfully to the scene at hand. Wright has always had a great penchant for soundtrack choices, from Shaun of the Dead‘s iconic use of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now to Scott Pilgrim Vs The World‘s hilarious use of The Door’s Alabama Song. In Baby Driver, the track list feels like a blistering rush of creative gumption. We see Baby planning actions to the beats, getting the audience firmly planted in his head space. We see how the music drives him, allowing us to ride in the backseat of his decision making in ways that elaborate dialogue would contrive us to connect to. It’s not just style over substance. The style IS the substance that connects us to the character, his journey and his motivations.
Baby Driver also benefits from a pretty stellar cast. Elgort is a baby faced marvel of quiet brooding, showing an unflinching confidence that’s tempered by an adorable vulnerability. When he emphasizes his need for music, it feels like far more than just an impulsive tick. And so much of that is conveyed through small interactions and facial movements. Lily James is adorable, but not totally reliant on Baby to be investing. She’s a sweet hard working woman who just wants escape from the mundane. Something Baby gives her a peak at through his unconventional personality. They are circled by an impressive roster of a supporting cast. Kevin Spacey balancing sleaze with respectful action. Jamie Foxx exuding menace and charm with relative ease. Jon Hamm showing wide range of personality that extends far beyond his recent Mad Men hushed tones or Bridesmaids comedic wit.
All of this provides the stew that makes Baby Driver a delicious treat. There’s not a single frame here that feels wasted. Much in the same way 2015’s Max Max: Fury Road took a simple story and used it as the core of a very visual way to connect us to it’s characters, Baby Driver is a technical marvel to behold. Yet, it doesn’t forget to use this stylish overlay to keep us invested in what’s going on. One could easily dismiss this as flashy pop nonsense that uses its actors as window dressing. Yet, that could all very easily be thrown out the side door. Modern blockbusters love to throw shiny things at the screen to distract us from their convoluted plots and underwhelming characters. While the characters in Baby Driver aren’t as detailed, their actions speak louder than conversations. They’re driven – heh – to their moments by the stylish roadways of A-to-B. Edgar Wright knows how to make every stylish moment matter. Every homage work within this new context. The use of songs mean something more than just “here’s what’s on my Spotify playlist, y’all!” In that way, Baby Driver is honestly taking the type of filmmaking Quentin Tarantino made famous and doing a far better job of capturing the pop culture splash of fun & tension than he has in about a decade.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 160GB iPods
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