Personally, I feel that Edgar Wright – to his credit – has never made a “bad” film. Quite the contrary – all of his films range quality-wise from fairly decent to absolutely mind-blowing. And for the last few months, I have been hearing excellent buzz for Wright’s latest effort, known as BABY DRIVER. It has been making the festival circuit rounds and generating great word-of-mouth. The film’s trailer also did a good job of trying to sell the story, and I have to admit that after seeing the trailer, that was the moment that the film became “must see” for me. As I was quick to tell many of my friends whilst leaving the Alamo Drafthouse theater in Brooklyn after seeing BABY DRIVER, the film clearly stands firmly in the latter category above – absolutely mind-blowing! It is just an incredibly thrilling roller coaster that I just want to ride over and over again, making this far and above my favorite film of 2017 so far.
Baby (played by Ansel Elgort) seems like your typical contemporary young person – always buried in his headphones and iPod. But what you don’t know is that Baby is also a talented getaway driver for the enigmatic kingpin Doc (played by Kevin Spacey). Doc is notorious for using different crews for every big-time heist, but he always uses Baby as his getaway driver for the simple fact that Baby truly is “the best” at what he does. As it turns out, Baby is indebted to Doc, and he’s working as his getaway driver until his debt is paid off. Eventually, the day comes when Baby is “set free” by Doc, and after celebrating his last job, he meets Debora (played by Lily James), a waitress at Baby’s favorite diner, and the two take an immediate liking to each other. But as it always goes in the crime business – you can never stay away forever.
I think the best way to describe BABY DRIVER is that it is an interesting hybrid between contemporary action film and exploitation film – the film’s poster certainly hints at its exploitation influences, and it comes across very not-so-subtly onscreen as well. Another influence seems to come from Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 film DRIVE (which is one of my personal favorites). The first thing I noticed from the film’s opening sequence was how closely it mirrored DRIVE’s opening in terms of objective – essentially, both films told the exact same story in their openings, but each did so in its own unique way. DRIVE’s sequence chose substance and tension over action, while BABY DRIVER seemed to tread that line between both substance and action, and that’s all thanks to Edgar Wright’s directing. What I also noticed is that both Ansel Elgort’s Baby and Ryan Gosling’s Driver both have their own weird quirks – Driver is very soft spoken and seemingly emotionless, which Baby constantly has his headphones on due to his tinnitus condition. It is these quirks and traits that help flesh out the characters and make them more believable to the audience.
Baby’s story arc is exceptionally well-written, allowing for the audience to both empathize and easily get behind the character throughout the events of the film. BABY DRIVER shows its protagonist in a reluctant state – he knows that working for Doc is not only illegal, but dangerous. So once Doc tells him officially that he’s off the hook, Baby feels reborn – like it’s the first day of the rest of his life. It is here where the romantic subplot with Debora begins to blossom, and I have to say, both Ansel Elgort and Lily James have great chemistry together. The famous dinner scene at the restaurant was shot in a way that was both stylistic and rich with subtext – both Baby and Debora did not utter a word to each other during that scene. Rather, it was their facial expressions and hand movements (specifically, hand holding) that conveyed to the audience just how infatuated they are with each other. But as I mentioned above, in the crime world, you don’t stay away forever, and sooner than he expected, Baby finds himself pulled back in. Now, however, the stakes suddenly become higher, as he has a girlfriend that he does not want to put in harm’s way. Not only is that great storytelling, it’s great filmmaking.
Honorable mentions definitely go to Kevin Spacey as Mac, Jon Hamm as Buddy (who along with Elgort is the MVP of this film), and Jamie Foxx as Bats. All three actors gave great performances that helped carry the story forward. I was very impressed with Jon Hamm and his character arc – while he pretty much took a back seat in the film’s first half, by the second, he slowly but surely evolves into one of the film’s main antagonists; and the best part about that is that it is 100% believable as to why that happens. Again – chalk that up to great writing! The action sequences (particularly the car chases) were very well-crafted, although I do have to admit that certain shots could’ve been utilized better. What I mean by that is that there are a few sequences where wide angles were used as opposed to more zoomed-in shots. The wide angles created a distance between the audience and the car chase, which reduced the emotion output of the scene itself. But for every one shot that wasn’t quite right, there were five shots that were just perfect. So while a little bit of extra editing might have made the film that much better, overall the actions scenes are still amazingly stimulating to watch. The climatic sequence, especially, had me on the edge of my seat. And that is an emotion that I love to feel while watching any film.
I also have to shout out the film’s soundtrack – one of the best of the year so far. Practically every song that is featured in BABY DRIVER made it onto the soundtrack, rounding out at about thirty tracks from artists such as Queen, The Beach Boys, Carla Thomas, The Commodores, Barry White, Danger Mouse, and Kid Koala. As far as Kid Koala goes, I was actually privileged to be able to attend a special screening of BABY DRIVER at Alamo Drafthouse that featured Kid Koala in-person to lay down a few tracks for the audience as well as the process that went into creating some of the film’s more notable tracks. In fact, some of the gizmos and gadgets that Kid Koala demonstrated actually made cameo appearances in the film itself, so it really helped put all of that into context. Still, this is one of the finest film soundtracks of the year so far (right next to Awesome Mix, Vol. 2).
I could actually go on for quite a while longer on how amazing BABY DRIVER is, but why should I have all the fun? Check out BABY DRIVER for yourself; it has everything you could possibly want in a film – great characters, really great acting, a well-written story, cool action sequences, and a killer soundtrack. I feel that this could be close to a “perfect film” as we are going to get in 2017, which is why I encourage everyone reading this to stop what you’re doing, get in your car, drive to your local theater, and see BABY DRIVER. It is one heck of a roller coaster ride, and an experience that I guarantee you won’t soon forget.
2017 • 113 Minutes • United States
Color • English • TriStar Pictures
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, Eiza Gonzalez