In Hudson Hawk, Bruce Willis times his robberies to songs. I love Hudson Hawk but I understand it’s a kind of absurdity that most people don’t want in their action movies. Edgar Wright figured out how to make it badass. Baby Driver isn’t a musical action movie. It’s more like a visual DJ session.
Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver for Doc (Kevin Spacey)’s crew. He listens to an iPod on earbuds and chooses a track for each getaway. It also helps that he doesn’t listen to old standards. Baby likes modern beats or at least timeless classic rock.
Baby expresses his character through music and dance. I wish all headphone brats were this evocative and less in your face, but the great movie adage is “show don’t tell” so this is a great way to put that to the test. By the time Baby does begin speaking dialogue, you already know him. He also has a quirky hobby mixing his own tracks which is an endearing expression of how he understands the world.
Baby Driver gets the emotion too, in two places that have become cliches in lesser hands. Wright takes them back. Baby cares for a foster father who is deaf, but he’s not a “save the cat” for Baby. He wants Baby to succeed, preferable legitimately, but there’s no “I told you so” to him. And of course it’s a woman that inspires Baby to go straight, but Debora (Lily James) isn’t someone who needs saving. It looks like they’d actually have a healthy relationship. They like the same things, give each other space. She reacts like any normal person would when crime enters her word, but she adapts fairly quickly.
Another good twist is that it’s not the one last job that goes wrong. It’s that Baby is so good Doc just doesn’t want to let him go. In a manipulative criminal way, it does suggest that good work is rewarded, whether it wants to be or not.
The music doesn’t just give Baby Driver a kick ass soundtrack. You can tell it’s more sophisticated than that by the way the sound mix works. Music fills different speakers according to who is listening, or how many are sharing earbuds. Music sets the rhythm of action scenes, but not just to set the intensity. Wright knows that would be a crutch so he chooses compositions so sophisticated the film has to get sophisticated to keep up. So a gunfight parallels “Tequila” (a mix of which I wasn’t even familiar with) down to the twitching of a dead bad guy’s fingers.
The world of Baby Driver is colorful and full of humor. Doc’s crew makes up clever crime names. Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza Gonzales) are relatively normal, but wait ’til you hear who’s even more outrageous than Bats (Jamie Foxx). Humor is more than comic relief. It’s badass and expresses the characters.
The action is exactly what I want to see: real practical driving filmed clearly and edited so we can tell what’s happening. This used to be the standard but Wright elevates it too. The dynamic car chases flow from drift to drift. Through the editing you actually understand how Baby maneuvers the car.
There may not be a faster, more furious movie than Baby Driver this year, and there is an actual Fast and the Furious movie coming out in April before Baby Driver opens. It’s easy to hope that franchise hires Wright based on his work here, but if Wright keeps creating original masterpieces like Baby Driver, maybe that throws down the gauntlet for the big franchises to keep up!