Odeon’s ‘Screen Unseen’ is a regular event in which the cinema chain hand picks a film for an early screening. In the build up to the eventual screening, Odeon release very cryptic clues for the film they’re showing. This film’s clues were “Political hangover,” “Soon shorter star, surrogate shop,” “Tiny, dark, waiting in the wings, “ and “Fingers ‘n Finest formed.” I’ll let you figure out exactly how they link to the film in question, but as you can tell, Edgar Wright’s ‘Baby Driver’ was the ‘Screen Unseen’. For a film to join the ranks of previous ‘Screen Unseen’ films like ‘Moonlight’, ‘The Revenant’, and ‘Whiplash’, Odeon certainly had high hopes for ‘Baby Driver’. Those high hopes were not unfounded. ‘Baby Driver’ is one of the films of the year so far.
‘Baby Driver’ is the story of Baby (Elgort) and his adventures as a getaway driver for mysterious criminal and bank robber Doc (Spacey). As far as the plot goes, giving much else away would ruin some of the surprises and magic you have in store. In ‘Baby Driver’, you have a film where the motto seems to be “it’s not about the destination, it’s how you get there.” Both the film and its title character get from Point A to Point B in the only way they know how; driving really fast to the sound of a really loud, really eclectic iPod. It’s a blast.
From the first scene, Wright lets us into idea of the film. Baby is the getaway driver and he is our lead character; he is the focus of our story. While some of his criminal associates are off performing heists, that is purely background noise to Baby’s enjoyment of music. The first song we hear is ‘Bellbottoms’ by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, a blues-y, headbanger of a song, and the entire heist is ignored in favour of Baby air-guitaring and air-drumming and miming along to the song. Instantly, Baby comes across as charming and likeable and once the driving begins, almost impossibly talented. The first car chase, in the red Subaru that’s all over the trailers, is spectacular. It’s an intense, white-knuckle thrill ride through the streets of Atlanta. There are close shaves, clever tactics, handbrake turns galore, and accompanied by the song in question it becomes one of the best car chases I’ve seen in years. This becomes a common theme. Every car chase or major set-piece in ‘Baby Driver’ is on its own level of awesome.
As a huge fan of Edgar Wright, his Cornetto trilogy, ‘Spaced’, and ‘Scott Pilgrim’, I found his energetic style of filmmaking to be a perfect fit for ‘Baby Driver’. Even small, conversation filled scenes are punctuated with small sound cues at just the right moment or gesture. I got the impression as the film went on that the visuals on screen were so meticulously planned from the get go, almost as if the scenes themselves were filmed with a song in order to truly nail the timings. Everything you see in Baby Driver can be matched to a musical influence of some description, gunshots were in perfect sync with the music playing overtop, and even Doc explaining an upcoming heist had the rhythm of a drum solo. Wright manages to keep the pace and flow of the film at such a high level that I have no doubt that there are moments and jokes that I didn’t catch on first viewing and will require a second or third viewing. What a shame.
Given the talent on show, it should come as no surprise that the performances are terrific across the board, particularly from Elgort, Foxx, and James. Foxx’s Bats is a loose cannon, a difficult business partner when the business is crime and several characters find themselves on the wrong side of Bats. Lily James’ Debora leaves a long-lasting impression too as she comes across so endearingly from her very first appearance. It’s possible that there’s a manic-pixie-dream-girl element to her as she is Baby’s perfect match instantly, but when James pulls off the character so well you can’t help but be swept up along with Baby and his love for her.
Baby Driver’s driving force is no doubt its music. Judging by my Spotify playlist having increased in number by no less than 15 songs, there’s something for absolutely everyone as the song choices span several decades. ‘Baby Driver’ does for 80s blues what ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ did for 70’s rock. ‘Baby Driver’ covers every base it can in a soundtrack that no doubt took almost as long to get right as it did to actually film. A late chase sequence to the sound of a Queen song had my mouth agape for its duration as it was such a perfectly intense song for the visuals on screen. That scene, as well as several others, were utterly breathless and I can’t wait to see them again.
If I had a gripe about Baby Driver, I would say it’s in its third act as some characters make some choices that are questionable, possibly going against what we’ve been shown in the previous 90 or so minutes. One character has been far-removed from the key action until the third act and when they are, they appear to brush off fairly brutal violence very casually. That said, it’s a small gripe that has no bearing on my overall opinion of the film.
‘Baby Driver’ is a blast. It’s exciting, funny, heart-warming, and very original. The performances are terrific, it’s written and directed superbly, and all being well, ‘Baby Driver’ should be one of the big hits of the summer. Edgar Wright, you’ve done it again.
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Lily James, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez