Baby Driver’s been a passenger in the Edgar Wright career vehicle for over twenty years. Having conceived the concept – that of a getaway driver with a unique relationship to music – in the nineties, it was in directing the music video for Mint Royal’s ‘Blue Song’ that Wright first had a play. There Noel Fielding played the eponymous driver in an electrically entertaining four minute venture of boogieing to put shower singers to shame. Wright could quite easily have parked the idea there and then. What a sign, then, of his sheer brilliance and audacity as a director that he held on and has now produced something even more spectacular. Baby Driver is breathtaking. A film that will be treasured for generations to come.
Wright’s updated the idea since ‘Blue Song’ and so here his protagonist, Baby (Ansel Elgort), is both a getaway driver in tune with his tunes and a sufferer of tinnitus (‘the hum in the drum’), reliant on them to drown out the white noise that has plagued him since a childhood accident. Baby is not just a passive listener of his music but a young man entirely at one with it. Channelling Ferris Bueller, Elgort is the picture of effortless cool as he moves in time with the beat and orchestrates the world around him. To the sound of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s Bellbottoms Baby, he jives with a red Subaru’s windscreen wipers before stunning the roads with a display of thrilling joyriding. Then, to Bob & Earl’s Harlem Shuffle, he owns the very streets upon which he walks. It’s smooth and it’s fly and that’s just the moment Baby passes a sax shop. Simply dazzling.
Baby may appear to live the life of a latter-day John Travolta but there are scars beneath the sunglasses far deeper than those found on his skin. Having stolen the wrong car for a ride in his youth, Baby has been long in the debt of Doc – an outstanding Kevin Spacey. Baby is Doc’s driver of choice for a series of heists – ‘He’s a good kid and a devil behind the wheel’ – but as the film opens a glimmer of hope appears with the understanding that Baby is just ‘one more job’ from no longer being in debt.
At a nearby diner is Lilly James’ Debora. She’s a pixie, girl-next-door type in a fantasia world where anything’s possible but totally owns it. Together they plot the ultimate getaway. An escape from real life. Just them, their music and the road. As a pairing, James and Elgort glitter with perfect chemistry; they’re Bonnie and Clyde by way of Mia and Sebastian. She, a maestronic zebra, in her black and white uniform and he, a disc jockey, dressed head to toe as the instant icon. If only life really were the fairytale in which they so clearly belong.
Watching Baby Driver feels like experiencing a cult classic in every way bar the sensation that, for a film to hit so quickly, it cannot possibly be alive only in the peripheries of cult status. It’s funny (count the sunglasses) and touching (see Baby’s lovely relationship with his death foster father – C J Jones) and unquestionably an Edgar Wright film.
How telling that the director left Ant-Man for Baby Driver when it became clear that the unwieldy Marvel blockbuster would never be the film he wanted to make. Wright’s flair for comedy and action has long been evident, both in his Cornetto Trilogy with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and in solo outings like Scott Pilgrim Vs the World. Traces of this early work can be neatly traced throughout Baby Driver – from echoes of the zombie-bashing Queen sequence of Shaun of the Dead to one particularly memorable moment in Hot Fuzz that is here granted a reprise. Though an American-made film, Wright’s first across entirely the pond, his remains a distinctly British style. Whilst Baby Driver has the stunts of the Fast and Furious franchise, it is a film of absolute heart and soul. It’s also terrifically retro, Guardians of the Galaxy so. The thinking-cinephile’s blockbuster.
Wright’s may be the overarching vision of Baby Driver but in the ranks beneath him every level clicks. Fresh from The Jungle Book, and another of Wright’s regular collaborators, Bill Pope provides typically beautiful cinematography, his artwork seamlessly edited by Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss. Also on screen are an ensemble cast who unanimously earn their roles in the film across the board. It’s great to see Jamie Foxx back on form and Jon Hamm’s always welcome but it’s newcomer Eiza González steels her scenes whilst Jones nails endless endearment. Revving through it all, of course, is that soundtrack. Each track meticulously selected, the film runs from start to close with almost a constant stream of music in accompaniment. The effect is jaw dropping.
One blast will never be enough to truly appreciate the abundance of cinematic intelligence and hitherto unknown quantities of easter egg treats, hidden in each and every scene. A Pulp Fiction for the 21st Century, Baby Driver is a triumph that demands repeat viewings. A wonder’s how these engines feel.