Review: Baby Driver


Much as it takes a symphony in multiple movements to fully exercise an orchestra, Edgar Wright's Baby Driver fully exercises film as a systemic input to your brainstem. I left exhausted, happy, and eager to see it again.

Act I, Take Me Away!

Act 1 is Wright's original concept writ large: "Baby" is a getaway driver, and we see a contender for the best getaway scene in film set perfectly to a soundtrack. This is the overture, the who, what, and where. There's almost no dialog--just searing "wow....Wow....WOW!!!!!"

Then from that allegro, an adagio: A minutes-long scene shot as a SINGLE FOLLOWING SHOT with lyrics from a song visually embedded throughout.  Once my brain got it, it was this surreal joy, all from an unassuming kid going for coffee down a street.

Per IMDB, this shot took 28 takes to get, and it seems a miracle it took that few.

Act 1 closes with the divvying up of the money, the thieves going their separate ways, with John Hamm's greasy, coke-head hedonist saying, "Next time Doc calls, Baby....don't pick up."

And then, the first hiccup in this Mozart: "One more job and I'm done."

Oh...it's going to be *that* kind of picture? That "Gone in 60 Seconds" cross/double-cross BS we've all seen 50 times?
Well, yes, and no.

And Now, The Plot

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a cypher. "I've talked more to you today than I've spoken to anyone in a month," he tells his crush-cum-soulmate, Debra (Lily James) Verbally, it's hard to figure out anything about his story and his motivations. However, as with the rest of the film, he communicates with music. He's obsessed with it.

Thanks to some nifty "show, don't tell" scenes in Act 2, we learn Baby was orphaned in an accident that left him with tinnitus he smothers with music, and he's obsessed with music because of his dead mother, whom he venerates much like Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy.

I really appreciated Elgort's performance: He's a virtual prisoner to Doc, with such Stockholm Syndrome that he's convinced himself that "This is fine...I can handle this." He has his compartmentalized life, with "Work" being his driving and "home" being his deaf, infirm foster Dad.

(By the way, his foster Dad steals Every. Freaking. Scene.)

Enter Jamie Foxx. He's everything Baby is not: Worldly, cold, homicidal. He's the ugly, nihilistic reality of a life of crime. Ultimately he forces Baby to realize that he's chosen to be here. That being said, he's terrific in the role, just short of a caricature of Thug Life.

From there it's by-the-numbers: A love story.  A threat.  A response.  A choice.  The consequences.

Realization: This thing is spitting distance from a classic Tragedy.

Alas, it's not to be.

With a Day's Perspective....

With 24 hours' distance, does the film hold up to deep examination?

In a word, no.

This is not The Godfather. Certain characters and character motivations appear out of nowhere, usually in service of that ending.  The good guys have terminal Stormtrooper Aim. Kevin Spacey is uneven at best, phoning-it-in at worst.

And Then, The Violence

The violence-averse should avoid this film. The "butcher" scene is gratuitous, and I'll leave it at that. It's almost like Wright felt the need for a Tarantino bloodbath. IMO, he didn't. We were deep into the falling action by that point: Baby had made his decision, and we pretty much knew Bats was a psychopath.


The Ending...What Might Have Been

Last, the ending is treacle, quite close to dreck. So much so that it seems like a fever dream....or the last thoughts of a dying man  .   A little Peyton Farquhar action, perhaps?

Alas, anyone expecting "Vanishing Point" or "Butch Cassidy" should just watch those instead.  I do wonder if there's a different ending somewhere.

So...?

This film is art.  Artwork means different things based on the viewer. 

Popcorn-chewing action-movie fans leave satisfied. Nihilists nod, approving. Hopeless romantics will sigh with contentment. Pasty, put-upon introverts may hope anew they'll find the perfect girl and she'll run away with them.

But, that's real art for you. It will challenge you and reflect who you are.

Everyone gets something different from Beethoven's 9th, and so it is with Wright's Baby Driver.

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