The summer blockbuster season is upon us which means it’s the perfect time for studios to release loud, overproduced, underdeveloped action films to the waiting masses. Sitting in the theater as Baby Driver was screened I could hear the bass thump of Transformers in the theater next door, sounding as if World War III had broken out as a natural disaster took place. And I couldn’t help but think if it’s that annoying on our side of the dividing wall, how annoying is it inside? And then I stuffed that thought because I was watching Baby Driver and enjoying the hell out of myself.
Baby Driver is Edgar Wright’s (director of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) latest film starring Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey, and Jamie Foxx. In it we follow a twenty-something year old getaway driver named Baby as he tackles his final jobs and begins to adjust to a normal life only to be pulled back.
I call Baby Driver a gem in a sea of turds and opened with a complaint about summer blockbusters because Baby Driver may be overlooked by the general movie-going crowd in lieu of Transformers or the upcoming Spider-Man film. It’s had a relatively modest ad campaign, word-of-mouth discussion of the trailer and advanced screenings has garnered interest. But aside from perhaps being overlooked, it’s also an action movie that isn’t loud or full of CG, it has a competent script and involves you in a way that the vast majority of action films do not.
Case in point: The very opening scene. The scene tells us everything about the style of Baby Driver. First of all: the music. Baby Driver could arguably be considered a musical. Nearly every scene has background music and most of the action whether it is gun play, driving, or just mundane tasks matches the music. The sound of money being stacked on a table coincides with the beats of the song being played. Gunshots do the same in another sequence. It’s a level of technical prowess that is jaw-dropping and left a smile on my face throughout.
Secondly: the action. The opening sequence bank getaway had me at the edge of my seat with adrenaline pumping. I haven’t sat in a theater and felt that way since The Raid 2 three years ago. The direction is wonderful, the cuts are perfect, and the stunt work is stupendous. Add to that a good amount of humor and some intelligent situations and solutions and you have a short but sweet sequence that would make a James Bond film jealous.
The movie continues to have fantastic practical stunt work throughout, though after the initial robbery, things slow down. There is another robbery but otherwise you spend about sixty minutes watching Baby’s life normalize. He meets a girl at a diner and they hook up, he lives with a mute elderly man and you see their relationship strengthen, he begins work as a pizza delivery guy. It’s a very typical character arc and you know from the moment we get into the mundane that it’s a precursor to things hitting the fan.
The unevenness of the middle portion might turn off some viewers. There’s humor and good music but the promise of gripping car chase sequences is dashed by a human element that is somewhat unexpected given the over-the-top nature of the first twenty or thirty minutes. The romance is compelling if only because Baby is a tragic man who you can identify with and want to see escape the criminal life.
Once Baby is pulled back into criminality and the big job is planned, the film goes back to being fast-paced and action packed. The adrenaline is there, but so is a very dark dread and suspense. A lot of pretty obvious things happen that intermingle Baby’s attempt at normal life with his criminal life and though a trope seen multiple times before, Edgar Wright manages to make it fresh and leave us at the edge of our seats. Will Baby escape this life?
I won’t spoil what happens but it’s a hell of a ride through those final thirty minutes. Just when you think its over, it keeps going, ratcheting up the tension. It’s immaculate execution.
And as the credits rolled and I stood up, a smile on my face, I watched the old people file out of the theater, frowning or talking about how bad the film was. I guess they expected Baby Driver to be like Baby’s Day Out or something.
This Fourth of July weekend, go see Baby Driver. It’s one of the tightest films I’ve seen in recent years with a great script, amazing action, a kick-ass soundtrack, interesting characters, and a director at the helm who knows how to make a beautiful and powerful piece of cinema. A definite action masterpiece and I’m sure an instant cult classic.