Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, Jon Bernthal, Lanny Joon, Flea
R for violence and language throughout
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
There’s a certain thrill to a cinematic car chase. Two or more talented drivers weaving in-and-out of traffic trying to evade various pursuers. It’s an action form that has seen many variations, but few as stylish or fascinating as Baby Driver.
The film stars Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent) as Baby, a wheelman for ruthless, but family-oriented heist ringleader Doc (Kevin Spacey). Plagued by tinnitis after the car accident that claimed his parents’ lives, he has ended up paying off debt to Doc using his amazing talents behind the wheel of a car. As Doc hears information about potential opportunities, he puts together various groups of heavies and thugs to help carry out his daring robberies, all with Baby as getaway drivr.
Among the actors signing on to take a passenger seat to Baby are Joe Berenthal, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, Flea, Lanny Joon, and Jamie Foxx. Hamm, Gonzalez, and Foxx are there for the final run that pits Baby and like-minded girlfriend Debora (Lily James) against them as he attempts to flee the life of crime and save himself and his deaf foster father Joseph (CJ Jones). Getting to that point is half the fun, but not all of it.
Edgar Wright’s 78-minute debut feature A Fistful of Fingers isn’t available on disc, but the rest of his filmography is. I had never been interested in his Cornetto trilogy, so my first entry in his filmography was the delightful Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, an unusual comic adaptation that was both incredibly fun and visually amazing. I’ve since seen Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End, all of which showcase a major cinematic talent. So, going into Baby Driver, you have to expect the best and it largely delivers.
In the first few minutes of the film, the tone is set in motion. While Elgort seems a bit annoying in these moments, everything falls into place with the first chase sequence of the film, one highlighted in the film’s tantalizing trailer. Although it isn’t as high octane as the Fast & Furious films, there’s a thrilling spectacle at play here that is bolstered by the compelling plot and the generally likable characters, many of them vainglorious killers, but nevertheless human (Foxx excepted).
With his past efforts, Wright has shown a willingness to heap style on his films while presenting simple, yet unabashedly strange plots. Shaun of the Dead deals with zombies, Hot Fuzz cults, and World’s End aliens, but are all ostensibly relationship comedies of one sort or another. The same is true of Scott Pilgrim. What’s different here is that although there are some elements that could be considered comedic, Baby Driver is invariably a drama.
The performances are on point with Hamm and Foxx excelling, and everyone else dialing in solid performances. This is a film that requires the audience to identify with Baby and Debora, but also excels in presenting characters that are, for the most part, solid people. Hamm and Gonazalez are the only two who don’t treat Baby as a social outcast. Although they both rag on him for being different, they ultimately accept him as part of the team and knock down anyone who says otherwise. That is, of course, until they are crossed as they must be to drive the narrative forward.
Baby Driver has a lot of slow moments, but these help energize the action sequences, which are among the best in recent film. Wright’s ability to keep the procedings grounded even when the most ludicrious and unbelievable things are happening to the characters is one of the reasons he excels as a filmmaker. He’s not afraid to tackle odd topics while making them earthly and credible. Baby Driver may not include the death-defying stunts of the more popular Fast & Furious films, but it better insinuates itself into the long history of great cinematic car chase features. It is perhaps not as groundbreaking as Bullitt or The French Connection, but certainly no less human.
Potentials: Original Screenplay, Film Editing
October 23, 2017