Baby Driver is a slam-bam roller-coaster ride filled with pop tunes, screeching tires, machine guns and, of course, lots of kisses. It’s the kind of heist movie that isn’t so much about the heist as about the people who execute them. They’re a mishmash of assorted character types, some deluded, some tragic, some just plain nuts. But they’re all necessary; the various sections of Edgar Wright’s orchestra from left field. This is a crazy, thoroughly enjoyable movie by a director who’s in full command of his craft and totally revelling in it.
It starts with a bang: A high-speed getaway after a bank robbery. The driver is none other than Baby (Ansel Elgort), a sunglasses-wearing, jacket-loving young chap whose motor skills are so good he makes the Fast & Furious crew look like L-platers panicking at a roundabout. He also has a thing for music. Lots of music. 24/7. Wherever he goes, whatever he does. It is the beat to which his life grooves. There is a lovely moment where he has to restart a song on his iPod because a job begins late, disrupting his rhythm.
Much is made of the soundtrack (indeed, it punctuates just about every line of dialogue, every scene change, every gunshot), but I was more enthralled by the sheer audacity of Wright to marry so many influences into a bubbling cauldron of cinematic delight. Like all his movies, Baby Driver is written with meticulous precision. It draws its narrative from Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011). It steals romance from Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Baby has mommy issues, just like Peter Quill from the Marvel movies. And yet none of it feels unoriginal. By rooting the character drama so firmly in the innocence of its leading couple, Baby Driver becomes something uniquely its own. A kind of modern day fairy tale told through a lens of crime.
Kevin Spacey plays Doc, the chauffeured gangster who recruits Baby and orchestrates his devilish schemes; he is reliably intimidating and droll. The two best performances belong to Jamie Foxx as Bats and Lily James as the diner waitress Debora. Foxx eerily blurs the line between acting and real life. His trigger-happy, psychotic thief is so convincingly bonkers I suspect Elgort and the rest turned up to work each day wearing Kevlar. He is the volatile variable Wright flings into the cauldron, content to let him steer the story as he sees fit. Next to him, the vengeful Buddy (a manic Jon Hamm) seems almost domesticated.
But it’s not enough that these characters are broadly drawn and impressive; what they say and how they say it is often what keeps the entire machine oiled. Wright has a knack for words, not in the same way as, say, Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson, but his dialogue has a way of kidding itself. Watch how a conversation in a car about code names and real names becomes almost poetic. Or another in which three bad guys have to wear Halloween masks of Mike Myers instead of Michael Myers. Or how Wright shrewdly slips in a reference to Monsters, Inc. (2001). It’s kinda bewitching.
I have enjoyed all of Wright’s pictures. There’s an energy about them. A certain insouciant charm that runs from the page to the screen. It is clear he is a visual storyteller, a director not content to explain his ideas but to showcase them through cinematic technique. He is the grand puppeteer. He has all the strings. He knows exactly what they do, and not for a second does he ever tug the wrong one.