Baby Driver is the latest offering from acclaimed writer/director Edgar Wright, a filmmaker for whom I hold tremendous respect, with his signature filmmaking style remaining one of the most unique things in cinema today. My personal, all-time favourite film of his – Hot Fuzz – is an action satire that mixes style with a hilariously dark and satirical story to tremendous effect and one that I consider to be the gold standard in pacing and editing, the latter of which is also showcased beautifully in Baby Driver.
Most of Edgar Wright’s films have been a subversive take on an established genre. Be it Zombies (Shaun of the Dead), Aliens (The World’s End), Video-Games (Scott Pilgrim vs The World) or Action films (the aforementioned Hot Fuzz), it’s truly quite extraordinary to see how Edgar Wright uses what some might consider to be clichés of a genre to actually make the overall film feel fresh, original and thoroughly entertaining.
In that regard, Baby Driver is no exception. It is a subverts the ‘Heist’ genre and the whole ‘one last job and I’m out’ shtick that comes along with it.
A music-infused romantic action thriller about a tinnitus affected getaway driver (The eponymous ‘Baby’ played by Ansel Elgort) who listens to various songs to drown out the hum in his ears, the film is a unique take on the ‘Heist’ genre in the most Edgar Wright way possible. Treating music as a character in the film, not unlike this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2, the film is an achievement in editing, with various scenes/sequences often cut to the beat of the song playing in the background.
However, while I did walked out of the film satisfied, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed as well.
Don’t get me wrong, the film is good and there are moments, mostly the action sequences, that can be considered truly exceptional. With action choreography moving with the music in ways that will leave you in awe of Wright’s technical prowess (a early heist sequence especially is incredible), there are also some dialogue scenes choreographed to the music which further showcases his talent. Where other directors would have just shot a dialogue sequence in a straight-forward, flat manner; Edgar Wright uses clever editing techniques and as mentioned earlier, clever blocking and choreography from the actors for a result that is unlike anything you would’ve probably seen before.
The film’s performances are all great as well, with Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx being true standouts. Ansel Elgort as ‘Baby’ infuses the character with a playful, boyish charm that goes a long way in helping us root for him. Lily James as ‘Debora’ also does well in her role, although her character did feel a tad underwritten.
The problem however, lies in the pacing and the storytelling. See, one of the main focuses of the film is the romance between ‘Baby’ and ‘Debora’, a waitress that he grows close to and in a lot of ways, is his grounding force. This is where the film faltered quite a bit for me, considering the majority of the third act has Baby doing what he does for his love and unfortunately, their relationship and romance is never really established well enough for us to feel invested and thus serves only to grind the otherwise breakneck pacing to a screeching halt. This is especially weird, considering character relationships is something Wright has handled tremendously well before. For instance, the climax of ‘Hot Fuzz’ wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if the main characters’ friendship with each other weren’t established properly in the film.
Another issue I had was with the music itself. Not the music choice or how it fit the film overall – both those aspects were fantastic in fact – but how the music served the film’s purpose. Stylistically and technically, having the music be so front-and-centre is a really cool creative choice but there isn’t a moment where the music really defines a particular moment or actually makes you FEEL something. For instance, there’s a moment in Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 where Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Chain’ takes hold of the background score for a moment that FEELS truly impactful. And while it might be because I saw both films in the same year, I simply couldn’t help feeling that a moment like that could’ve really helped us empathize with Baby more and what his music truly means to him.
Furthermore, the film’s plot does move in very unexpected ways, but it does so at the expense of inconsistent characterization, by which I mean characters do things in the film that feel tremendously out-of-character and serves only to drive the plot forward. This is especially noticeable in the third act.
Overall, while it may seem like I had a lot of problems with the film, the truth is I still enjoyed it. In fact, if it were any other director, this film would be their career-best but I attribute a different standard to Edgar Wright and while I liked Baby Driver, I truly wish I loved it.
Also, I would be remiss to not point out the level of detail Edgar Wright fills his frames with. As with all his previous work, paying attention to moments in the first act is rewarded quite well in the third. Honestly, it never gets old.