Edgar Wright has made a series of critically successful movies, although I happen to be particularly partial to Scott Pilgrim vs the World for its impressive aesthetic and deep levels of references, and Hot Fuzz simply for being such a well made, fun movie. His others are fine, but I don’t really get into zombie movies, so Sean of the Dead is fine to me, and The World’s End more well-constructed than rewatchable.
His typical style is a sort of fast cut, visually comedic take on a genre with underlying dramatic pain, but Baby Driver, which he also wrote, isn’t a comedy at all. Instead of pairing comedy with genre, this time Edgar Wright pairs music with action. From the start, we are immersed in diegetic music as we follow our protagonist Baby (Ansel Elgort), a young, super-capable stunt getaway driver. Due to tinnitus from a car accident as a child, he prefers to constantly be listening to music to drive out the constant ringing in his ears.
So that’s the first layer of thematic connection to explain the importance of music to Baby, with more to follow as the movie develops. Baby is in that classic cliché of “minor criminal forced to do one last job that’s overtly criminal” action genre. In this case, he’s working for low-key, sinister crime boss “Doc” (Kevin Spacey, great in a subtle role), doing jobs to pay off his debt until he’s “free.” Of course as soon as he meets a fetching young waitress named Debora (Lily James) and discusses songs named after them, we have a good idea where the movie will be going.
The movie’s beats, pardon the pun, are familiar, and the characters drawn from common ground. Baby has a few initial crazy car chase scenes to set us up for the final, even crazier scenes, acting as another classic “mostly silent lead character.” Instead, the movie shows us his inner turmoil carefully, setting up links and relationships until we hit the final, intense, crazy conflagrations. Baby has to work with crazy criminals like the paranoid, insane Bats (Jamie Foxx) and the guy/girl crazy duo of Griff (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza González).
Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx are pretty good at varying levels of crazy person, helping to anchor the less out there showing of Ansel Elgort (who needs to be careful and emotionally deep) and Kevin Spacey, whose characterization is a bit muddled. Lily James as the waitress does well enough in the thinner role — not in terms of dialog, but in terms of who they are. We don’t really get a sense of who Debora is as a person.
So the story here is to pay service to two things: the soundtrack layered into the action. The characters are mainly built from dialog and little action beats, with most being just instruments in the orchestra Edgar Wright uses to make his action musical. It is a good soundtrack, certainly, although not transcendent like some people seem to be saying, and the action really goes in a bit of a curve. It starts with a strong, fun craziness to get you into it, and then it’s just repeating the same beats until the truly tense, over-the-top ending.
I did enjoy the movie, but it doesn’t really seem to me like a typical sort of Edgar Wright movie. It’s not really that funny, only a few bits here and there, more like the sort you’d get in an action movie, and the editing and cinematography is more like simply a competent action movie. It doesn’t have its own original feel.
I can appreciate the sense of personal connection here to the material for some people and certainly for the director, who’s spent years trying to get it made, but for me, I simply just had a good time. Unlike some of his other movies, I’m not itching to watch it again, and also not like them, it doesn’t really seem like an “Edgar Wright movie.” It’s a fun movie, but personally it’s more like an elevated crime action movie than anything truly great.
Baby Driver has a run time of 1 hour 53 minutes and is rated R for violence and language throughout.