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Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Baby Driver


Baby Driver

Edgar Wright's movies can earn a good rating but not necessarily be recommended to a friend.  That's not a bad thing.  We love Wes Anderson and the Coen brothers, but we realize that generally speaking, they appeal to some sensibilities and not to others.  Once, after expressing our rapture over The Grand Budapest Hotel, a respected friend said it was one of the worst movies he had ever seen, so bad he was tempted to ask for his money back.  No Country for Old Men, in our opinion, is a masterpiece, but we have family members who hate it, all for their own reasons.

Wright's movies don't attract that kind of animosity; maybe it's because they are such good-natured fun and so visual.  The 43-year-old Brit wrote and directed the star-making Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), a paean to video gamers and among my children's all-time favorites.  He also wrote and directed the wonderful Simon Pegg/Nick Frost Cornetto comedies Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), and The World's End (2013), and he wrote 2015's Ant-Man.   His films have been well-received by critics and wide swathes of the filmgoing public, and we have yet to hear anyone rate any of them lower than "It was all right."  And Baby Driver may be his most mainstream project to date.

We first meet Baby (Ansel Elgort) at his job, behind the wheel of a car, waiting curbside while his three partners are pulling off a broad-daylight heist.  While they do their job, Baby picks the perfect song for the moment on his iPod and goes into full-blown karaoke.  The robbers burst out of the doors and into the car, alarms blaring behind them.  The car doors close, and Baby exhibits his special talent: driver-savant, barreling through and around traffic with cops at every turn, a vehicular ballet set to the pulse-pounding strains of "Bellbottoms" blasting through his earbuds and to us.  The heist's mastermind is Doc (Kevin Spacey), a dangerous and deadpan boss who arranges the capers and switches up team members from job to job--except Baby, who is on every job, always the driver.

Baby, you see, crossed Doc once, but the gangster had a soft spot for the boy, allowing him to work off his debt in exchange for his life.  Outside of work, Baby doesn't have much of a life.  His only friend is a wheelchair-bound deaf-mute with whom Baby lives and communicates in sign language.  This is fine for the young driver because he has tinnitus--a permanent ringing in the ears brought on by a childhood accident.  He drowns it out with home-made playlists and mash-ups, piping them through his earbuds at ear-splitting levels.  One day, he meets Debora (Lily James), a sweet waitress at a throwback diner and he begins to envision a brighter future, one that includes the two of them riding off into the sunset.  As soon as his commitment to Doc ends.

Doc promises one more job, but there is that job.  The team we come to know best consists of Buddy (John Hamm) a scruffy Don Draper-type, or so we think until his psychopathology rolls out; Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), Buddy's love--they have "His" and "Hers" neck tattoos to prove it; and Bats (Jamie Foxx), an aggressive psychotic who thinks there is something wrong with Baby because he rarely speaks, always wears sunglasses, and always listens to his music.  At one point, he listens to his iPod and drums his fingers while Doc explains the specifics of the heist.  Bats becomes incensed that the driver is paying no attention, to which Doc responds, "Baby?" and Baby perfectly reiterates Doc's instructions.  (Impressive lip reading, and when taken with his unexplained driving prowess it's unclear whether Wright wants us to believe that Baby has Asperger's syndrome.)  Buddy and Darling already share Doc's faith in Baby, but we're still not sure of Bats.  And what's left to wonder is whether Baby is still committed to the job.

The entire film moves to the rhythm of an eclectically terrific thirty-song soundtrack.  The plans, the heists, the escapes, all move to a choreographed beat of Baby's choice.  A scene where Baby dances through neighborhood is like a mashup of a Singing in the Rain Gene Kelly busting West Side Story moves, in which street drummers mimic the beat, wall murals match Baby's moves while he matches them right back, utility poles carry the lyrics we are hearing--this is Edgar Wright at his most visual and iconoclastic.  He was so inspired by Walter Hill's 1979 film The Driver that he named his own movie after it and even cast Hill in a cameo.  Some may compare this to the Fast and Furious movies, but where BD has style and invention, F&F relies on bombast, CGI, and green screen.  Baby Driver hearkens back to Bullitt, where real drivers drove real cars on real streets.  We also see a heavy dose of Tarantino in the dialogue, the interactions of the criminals, and in the violence that ratchets up to operatic levels in the second half of the film.

Wright's casting decisions and his choices of music bear much in common.  They are eclectic and for the most part, they perfectly integrate with his vision.  Two of the most interesting are John Hamm and Lily James.  Both cast against type: Hamm's typical debonair ad exec good nature now only a thin veneer over stubbled psychosis; James, the model of British Downton Abbey ladyship perfectly at home as an American country girl waitress.  The versatile Jamie Foxx inhabits the paranoid exposed nerve that is Bats and Kevin Spacey, toes the edge of parody as a humorously humorless cynic.  Both are charismatic and memorable.  Given those well-drawn characters, it's disappointing that Gonzalez is given little to do but be the gum-popping, gorgeous gun moll.  The most interesting choice among the major characters is, er, the major character.  We had our doubts about Elgort going in, thinking there had to be someone with more to offer as the title character, but he grew on us, and, in retrospect, he neatly fit the bill.  All in all, another very good effort by a writer-director whose films, for me, are can't miss experiences.

8.5 out of 10 on the Entertainment Scale
7.5 out of 10 on an Awards Scale (possibly in technical areas, director, original screenplay)



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