Director Edgar Wright is morphing into a pop culture icon and his films have become events with legions of devoted fans chomping at the bit for a piece of the action. His presence in the film world (and the fandom that follows him) rests somewhere in between Quentin Tarantino’s rockstar magnetism and Kevin Smith’s flagrant stoner bait. His latest film, Baby Driver, is a high-octane heist film that wears its influences on its sleeve and makes no apologies for exploiting the genre.
‘Baby’ (Ansel Elgort) is a highly skilled getaway driver who works for a ruthless crime boss (Kevin Spacey). He uses his iPod music to drown out the world around him and soften his severe case of tinnitus, which was brought on from a childhood accident. With violent criminals in the back seat he pinballs through the city like a maniac, evading cops like a four-wheeled ninja warrior. His arrangement with the boss is secretive and unbeknownst to the rest of the crew: there is an agreement between them that is bringing Baby closer to retirement. Cue the girl of his dreams and a plan to leave the criminal life behind to make a fresh start. Of course, being an action movie, things turn to shit and all hell breaks loose. Highly stylised violence ensues and a killer soundtrack rocks us to the finish line.
With films like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World under his belt it’s somewhat difficult to single one out over another in terms of quality. However, Baby Driver is – in my mind – his most acute and accomplished to date. And despite taking many of its cues from similarly themed films (such as The Transporter, Reservoir Dogs and Fast and the Furious), Wright has finessed all of his influences into a cunning action film that has the expected energy of a Hollywood blockbuster, as well as his signature humour and the appearance of originality. No new ground has been covered here – but it sure as heck looks as though there has.
The assembled cast is strong with Elgort proving to be a strong, albeit unexpected, lead player. His boyish looks and mind-mannered demeanour amplify the intensity of the action and with his presence amongst the chaos looking out of place, his title role plays to the movie’s biggest strength… that being the aforementioned appearance of originality. This works much the same way as Taron Egerton’s role in Kingsman: The Secret Service (another comparable film), who also maintained a consistent level of empathy amongst the audience. Spacey is also good, doing exactly what we expect Spacey to do. He delivers the calm maniacal demeanour that he knows so well and offers a reliable performance that few others would do as charmingly.
The support cast includes Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Lily James and Eiza Gonzalez. Hamm, in particular, is a standout, giving a show-stealing performance as the hardened thug with a strong character arc. He adopts the bad-ass persona brilliantly and is a welcome highlight in the film. Foxx’s performance, while adequate, is less convincing and perhaps too archetypal. In trying to steal the show, he only succeeds in creating a caricatured bad guy whose on-screen presence is constantly overshadowed by Elgort’s natural low-keyed demeanour.
Edgar Wright’s vision and astute direction is on show for the world to see and Baby Driver is – at this point in time – his magnum opus. His energetic fusion of action and music offers an overdose of style and substance that is as kinetic as it is engrossing. His editing technique blends the action with the soundtrack, which sees gunshots and explosions becoming a rhapsody of unadulterated mayhem. Throw a bit of drama into the blend and we’re left with a super fun, full-throttled action flick that ought to rank highly on many 2017 “best of” lists.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10