From the infectious opening sequence of the latest Edgar Wright effort, aptly titled Baby Driver, it becomes clear that every shot, every sound, and every screech from the tires of a car chase is entirely palpable. Choreographed seamlessly to the beats of Jon Spencer Blues Explosions Bellbottoms, the bank robbery and subsequent getaway drive brims off the screen with absolute gusto. The character behind the wheel calls himself Baby (Ansel Elgort), a man of few words who has suffered from tinnitus since a tragedy at a young age. The catch is that Baby drowns out the buzz through his wide-ranging iPod selections, allowing the film to honour a splendidly selected soundtrack which features Queen, Danger Mouse, and, of course, Simon & Garfunkel. The songs are channelled through Baby’s ears, as bullets fly and engines rev in sync with Baby’s eclectic music taste.
Unfortunately for Baby, the majority of his dirty work is paid off in a long-standing debt to Doc (Kevin Spacey) a smooth talking kingpin who appears amongst an array of ridiculous, Tarantino-esque supporting characters. Bats (Jamie Foxx) is a psychotic standout, but there’s also Bonnie and Clyde like lovers Buddy and Darling (Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez), who are as unstable as they are archetypal. Again, shades of Tarantino sweep into the script as Baby meets Debora (Lily James) an innocent waitress with a fantasy to “head west out on the 20 in a car I can’t afford, with a plan I don’t have”. Baby shares this escapist ideal, and their romance is radiant with the kind of screen chemistry that is reminiscent of Clarence and Alabama in the QT-penned True Romance. As sweetly delivered as these scenes are, they’re ultimately second-fiddle when followed by another heist sequence, something which is continually “one more job” for Baby, who finds himself in situations as unpredictable as the characters surrounding him.
Although this is erudite cinema, the action scenes embrace the screen with enough inventiveness that Wright somehow manages to bring something new to the car-chase tropes, hitting all the right notes with a similar appreciation for music as recently seen in La La Land. At times, the film has the sensibilities of a road-movie, but what unfolds is closer to Wright’s cult-comedy Scott Pilgrim vs The World rather than the parodic Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The Worlds End). The film is clearly something of a passion project for Wright, who showcases exactly the kind of individuality that was lacking from Marvel’s Ant-Man after they mistakenly parted ways with the filmmaker. There’s hardly time to breathe as Baby Driver is packed to the rafters with dexterous, rapid-fire filmmaking, wearing its many influences proud and in a dynamic fashion, something of a trademark in Wright’s growing repertoire. Typically, the use of location also feels prominent, with the wide lanes of Atlanta’s infrastructure being utilised terrifically by cinematographer Bill Pope.
There aren’t many flaws that detriment the copious highs of the film, but a case for style over substance could be made here. Although the acting is solid enough, a lack of character depth and certain choices in the third-act inevitably tarnish what would have otherwise been a robust script. That being said, Elgort’s performance as Baby is a difficult one to succeed in, but he thrives in such a physical role, bringing life to a character that on the surface, is somewhat hollow. A highlight of the fusion between music, movement, and Elgort’s performance captures Bob & Earl’s Harlem Shuffle with almost harmonious precision. This particular sequence arrives early in the narrative, but Baby Driver moves along swiftly with enough pace and originality that it reminds us why such blockbusters deserve to be seen on the biggest screen possible. I’ll be surprised if I see a more exciting film this summer.