Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Eiza Gonzales
Genre: Action, Thriller, Comedy
I can’t remember the last time a film intrigued me just based on a trailer as much as Edgar Wright’s latest, Baby Driver. With its solid cast, original plot and characters, and killer soundtrack, it had all the makings of a new favorite. Having finally seen it last night, I can safely say Wright not only met my expectations but exceeded them.
Ansel Elgort stars as the titular Baby, a highly skilled getaway driver for a revolving door of bank robbers employed by crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey), whom he owes a significant amount of debt to. Baby’s driving prowess is powered by his love of music; his trusty iPod is always on hand during a job, drowning out a bad case of tinnitus he acquired in a tragic car accident as a kid. He lives with a foster parent, Joe, who is wheelchair bound and unable to speak except through sign language. It is Joe’s concern for Baby’s life of crime that is the primary motivation for him to go straight after one last gig. That is, until he meets Debora (Lily James), a diner waitress with a heart of gold and a voice like silk. Baby and Debora bond over their love of music and need to drive away to a better life, the latter unaware of Baby’s occupation.
When Doc ropes Baby in for one last job, things begin to shift into high gear when he’s introduced to Batts (Jamie Foxx), a genuine psychopath with no respect and a willingness to kill just for the fun of it. Batts’ ‘loose cannon’ attitude creates tension with Baby as well as the two other constants in Doc’s crew, lovers Buddy and Darling (Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzales), the former of whom is the only member who seems to have some level of respect for Baby. This tension ultimately leads to Baby’s work life, home life, and love life coinciding in the worst way possible, leading to an explosive finale that words cannot do justice to.
As an action film, a love story, and even a black comedy, Baby Driver succeeds on every level. The car chases are filmed beautifully, giving the audience a vicarious adrenaline jolt without resorting to the fast paced, seizure inducing editing that highlights Michael Bay debacles. The relationship between Baby and Debora is unconventional and endearing, making you root for them from start to finish. Finally, the film is frequently hilarious, from Baby’s never ending supply of sunglasses to a mask purchasing expedition that gets lost in translations to just about every one of Foxx’s lines, few films blend together genres so beautifully.
For all the great writing and direction, what really makes Baby Driver crackle is the cast: Elgort plays Baby with the perfect mix of ‘aw, shucks’ naivety and James Dean-esque swagger, often having to rely on facial expressions and gestures as opposed to heavy dialog to make the character come to life, and doing so effectively. James is perfect as Debora; while it’s essentially a damsel role, James plays her with such a purity that it’s impossible not to endear yourself to her when her affair with Baby becomes a life threatening situation. Spacey, of course, is his usual dynamic self, playing Doc as cold and stoic, but also managing to convey a subtle layer of genuine concern for Baby’s well-being. Gonzalez plays Darling with the perfect sort of grimy sex appeal needed to counteract with James’ innocence.
Finally, there’s Jon Hamm, who simply steals the show as Buddy; aside from Baby, Hamm’s character has the most depth of any character in the film, pivoting seamlessly between friend and foe on a dime and really endearing you to him even in his sleaziest moments. His relationship with Darling, along with Hamm’s natural charisma, make him a complex antagonist rarely seen in action films these days. Though Hamm has won acclaim since his Don Draper days, his performance in Baby Driver truly shows the profundity of his skills, giving an Oscar worthy turn.
In what has been a largely hit-or-miss year for non-franchise films (Logan, Guardians Vol. 2, Wonder Woman), Baby Driver stands out as an exciting, original and instantly memorable film. See it yesterday, it’s that good.