Baby Driver (2017)

“All you need is one killer track.”

Directed by Edgar Wright
Starring Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Eiza Gonzalez, Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx

Baby (Elgort) is a crack getaway driver, working for a fixer known as Doc (Spacey), after stealing Doc’s car as a tearway youth. With his debt almost paid up, he is looking forward to hitting the straight and narrow, especially when he meets waitress Debora (James), who shares his love of music and driving.

Of course, it doesn’t work out, and Baby is pulled back for another job, working with Bonnie and Clyde types Buddy (Hamm) and Darling (Gonzalez), and Bats (Foxx), the self-proclaimed ‘one with mental problems.’ Bats manages to turn every situation into a bloodbath and Baby tries to make a run for it, which only leads to the crew discovering that he records heist planning sessions and edits them into music. Pressured into completing the job, when Bats kicks off once more Baby snaps, leading to what is basically a half hour climactic chase, with Baby trying to keep Debora and his foster-father Joe ahead of the cops and a vengeful Buddy.

What’s wrong with it?

The trailer lies, damnit. We get about thirty seconds of Golden Earring’s ‘Radar Love’ – one of, if not the greatest driving track ever – in the film, which I think may actually be less than in the trailer.

Doc is a slick professional. His crews… are not. Are there no professional criminals these days?

There are occasions when the shifts from humour to violence induce a bit of tonal whiplash.

What’s right with it?

This lift is, like, important.

The film defies a number of conventions in interesting ways. It is accepted, in movies with an eccentric protagonist, that the characters who are least accepting of those eccentricities are the antagonists. Baby Driver sets up Bats as its main antagonist, but it is Buddy, the crew member who most relates to Baby, who ends up as the big bad.

Also, Baby hits a lot of things while driving. He’s portrayed as an exceptional getaway driver, but not the inhuman physics violation of, say, The Transporter. I also liked seeing him affected by the increasing violence of his more solidly criminal cohorts.

Those eccentricities of Baby’s are really well done. He’s portrayed as awkward and insular, and borderline obsessive compulsive about his music, and it’s really interesting to compare with Bats, whose avowed ‘mental problems’ seem more like an affectation to excuse the fact that he just likes killing people.

There’s a moment in the court scenes where Debora describes her and Baby as ‘friends. But I think we both wanted to be more.’ It’s striking to see a film in which the male and female leads are romantically involved, but never have sex.

Aside from the shortage of ‘Radar Love’, the film’s soundtrack is amazing.

D’aww.

Wright makes effective use of camera work to communicate relationships, with Baby always at the back of the pack in the elevator, and the end of the table in the planning sessions, then forced into the key position and tight in with the crew during the heist itself. Conversely, his scenes with Debora are mostly close two shots.

The actors are all good. There really isn’t a bad performance on show. Elgort and Foxx are especially effective, at making the distant, uninvolved Baby sympathetic, and Bats a truly menacing figure respectively.

How bad is it really?

Because he’s not part of their world, see.

Like much of Edgar Wright’s work, Baby Driver is slick, entertaining, witty and visceral. Also like much of Edgar Wright’s work, its female characters are not as strongly drawn as the male. Darling is ultimately an adjunct to Buddy, and Debora more of a dream girl than a complete character, sharing all of his interests and willing to risk arrest or death to protect him despite all of the danger he has brought into her life. It’s interesting that Ansel Elgort has said in interviews that he believes the final scene of the movie, where he is released from prison and goes off under a rainbow-crossed sky with Debora is merely Baby’s fantasy.

Best bit (if such there is)?

“Your tattoo says ‘hat’.”
“It used to say ‘hate’, but to improve my job opportunities I had the ‘e’ erased.”
“How’s that working out for you?”
“Who doesn’t like hats?”

What’s up with…?

Gotta be a diner scene.
  • Jon Bernthal? He’s, like, third in the credits, then only in it for the first ten minutes before swaggering of with the line ‘If you don’t see me again, I’m dead.’
  • Doc’s crews? He’s got this huge organisation, apparently, but he works with homicidal fuckups like Bats, and heavies who don’t know the difference between Mike Myers and Michael Myers (in as much as it matters vis a vis heist masks.) Actually… It does occur to me that this could be a deliberate indication that Doc’s criminal empire is unraveling.

Ratings

Production values – Some good, own to earth vehicle stunts married with assured, slightly off-kilter camerawork and a kickass score. 3
Dialogue and performances – Witty dialogue and good performances across the board. 2
Plot and execution – Baby Driver has a pretty routine storyline, enlivened by a novel set of character beats as the film tracks Baby’s loss of innocence. 6
Randomness – The more I think about the movie, the more things actually make sense. 4
Waste of potential – I was promised ‘Radar Love’, damnit. 6

Overall 21%

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