FILM REVIEW: Baby Driver (2017)

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Good things come to those who wait. And quite often, good ideas are made better by being left alone, so that they can evolve and expand and eventually bubble their way to the surface when the time is right. For proof of this look to Baby Driver, an idea that has been festering away in the mind of Edgar Wright for several decades, finally realised at the point in Wright’s career when his directorial prowess is reaching its apex.

The film has homage written all over it, and its story is essentially a love letter to a roster of influences, mainly Walter Hill’s 1978 film The Driver. The plot – in which a talented young getaway driver, Baby (Ansel Elgort), is coerced into taking part in a doomed-to-fail heist by Kevin Spacey’s slick crime boss – is infused with Wright’s hyperactive energy and editing style. As well as this he’s added a fresh gimmick in the way that he has written the film, with each scene constructed so that the action synchronizes to specific songs in our hero’s iPod playlist. It takes some flawless execution to pull this off and Wright manages it seamlessly, being the kind of director whose artistry lies in the level of detail he crams in to each frame.

Storytelling isn’t really Wright’s strong point, it never has been, and the plot of Baby Driver sometimes lags. It’s pretty obvious from the get-go what’s going to happen to Baby and which of the other characters will get out alive, because (spoiler) bad guys always get what’s coming to them. There are a lot of clichés packed in, some of which are cleverly subverted, whilst others just feel eye-rollingly ham-fisted (see: the parents-dying-in-a-car-crash-shot-from-the-POV-of-the-child flashback, as seen in everything ever). The strength of the writing is also hampered by some fairly one-dimensional characters, with the female characters (all two of them) suffering the most: one’s a crazy bitch who dresses like a stripper, one’s a love interest for the hero, and both are defined by the men that they pine after. For a film so stylistically innovative, it’s a shame that the women are confined to the same roles that would have been designated to their 1970s counterparts.

The guys certainly come out on top; Ansel Elgort is a natural leading man, throwing himself with gusto into a part that requires equal amounts of coolness and vulnerability (and managing to not look too silly when lip-syncing around the living room). Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx get to flex their bad guy muscles, Hamm especially impressive as he slowly and scarily begins to unravel in the final act. And Kevin Spacey, is, well, Kevin Spacey: quietly terrifying but also protective of Baby, emerging as a kind of father figure to his young protégé.

This being an Edgar Wright film, the humour is top-notch and the music, obviously, impeccable in how well it matches the action and choreography. The car chases and gunfights are some of the best work that Wright has ever put to film, streamlined and sharply edited so that the heightened intensity of these sequences never feels overwhelming. And the movie’s setting of Atlanta, Georgia seems like a natural fit for him – it’s made clear by the inclusion of all the diners, Cadillacs and open roads that Wright has a deep fondness for American iconography, and this truly is his passion project.

Everything that Wright has made prior to Baby Driver has been leading up to this, and in terms of pure technique, he’s at the top of his game. The film is like a compilation album of all of Wright’s strengths but is, at times, let down by watery characters and a hackneyed plot. Its flaws can, however, be quite easily defended if you choose to read the film purely as an homage to the classic movies that it is referencing, and it’s such an entertaining, escapist ride that you may be willing to overlook them altogether.

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