REVIEW: “Baby Driver” (2017)

There’s something comforting about settling in to watch an Edgar Wright film. While there’s always a chance that one of the veteran director’s films might not click with you in particular, there’s no question that every line and every shot will be crafted with flair and finesse. Baby Driver is perhaps Wright’s most broadly accessible film to date (for an American audience, anyway) but it doesn’t feel as if the filmmaker’s cleverness and panache have been diluted in the slightest. The film also happens to be something of a cinematic rarity. A mid-budget summer action movie that isn’t based on an existing property? Practically unheard of in 2017, and yet here it is. This is a moment moviegoers clamoring for originality should bask in.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a music-obsessed kid who also happens to be an insanely talented getaway driver. Though he’s been pressed into a life of crime by Doc (Kevin Spacey), who caught Baby stealing one of his rides, things finally seem to be turning around; Baby meets and befriends Debora (Lily James), a beautiful waitress at a local diner, and he’s only a job away from paying off his debt to Doc. Baby’s foster father, Joseph (CJ Jones), is keen to see him finally use his talents for something constructive (or, at the very least, something legal). Doc, of course, isn’t so keen to lose the services of his best driver, and coerces him to take on the riskiest job yet with a ragtag team of mentally unbalanced criminals.

While the arc of Baby Driver’s plot (guy gets involved in a life of crime, wants to quit, finds that quitting is almost impossible) has been done innumerable times before, the film is still remarkably fresh and imaginative in its storytelling. The film’s use of music is certainly one element that makes it stand out from the crowd (more on that later), but the quality of the script serves as the foundation for Baby Driver’s cinematic flourishes. Wright’s screenplay doesn’t adhere strictly to the clichés of the genre, nor does he make a show of turning these conventions on their heads. By drawing interesting, original characters and crafting a movie that gives them a satisfying story, Wright finds a middle path that feels both familiar and unpredictable.

The outlandish figures that populate the film are grounded with realistic traits and genuine emotion; Doc, for instance, exhibits the cruelty and cunning of a crime boss while still maintaining a streak of genuine paternal protectiveness for Baby. Buddy and Darling (Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez), a lovey-dovey pair of bank robbers with matching “His” and “Hers” neck tattoos, are essentially a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde, with all the myopic, self-destructive obsession with each other that implies. Even Bats (Jamie Foxx), the most frightening and unhinged of the bunch, never explodes into violence for no reason. It’s not hard to see that years living a life of crime have steeped his brain in paranoia. His psychotic behavior and murderous tendencies have, if anything, served as a useful defense mechanism in his line of work.

Baby’s major personality quirk, his passion for music, serves as the lifeblood of the film. He constantly has music pumping through his earbuds, in order to drown out the permanent ringing in his ears brought about by a childhood car accident. This music, which we hear as Baby does, doesn’t just play alongside the action — the music and the film feed off each other symbiotically. The opening chase, set to “Bellbottoms” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, is edited in time to the garage-rock drumbeat. The sequence is a perfect encapsulation of both Baby’s love for driving and the dangerous nature of the lifestyle he’s been caught up in. Later in the film, Bats discovers that Baby is listening to the peppy brass-band classic “Tequila” during a tense meeting, which turns from a funny throwaway joke to a moment of black irony when everything suddenly goes wrong and people are gunned down to the cheery strains of The Button Down Brass.

It might be corny or obvious to describe a movie with cars zipping around for a solid chunk of its run-time as “high-octane,” but that’s just what Baby Driver is. It burns with a wonderful, infectious energy, eager to forge its own path through the familiar territory of crime cinema. More than just a fantastic movie in its own right, it’s a convincing refutation of the idea that a summer movie has to be a dumbed-down mess stuffed to the brim with overwrought CG effects in order to have widespread appeal. Smartly written and directed with care and ingenuity, Baby Driver is a unique spin on a classic story. Like a catchy summertime tune, it’s sure to get comfortably stuck in your head for days to come.