Baby Driver is Edgar Wright’s first film since the debacle of Ant-Man, which ended up with him leaving the project. It’s also his first American film since the wonderful Scott Pilgrim, and like that it’s better than any of his British films (which comprise the hideously overrated “Cornetto trilogy,” which was only titled that as a marketing ploy to sell ice cream.) It was written before Drive and influenced by Walter Hill’s The Driver, but comparisons to the two are inescapable, even if it’s a more light-hearted film than either.
The title comes from a Simon & Garfunkel song (god knows why) but the getaway driver is also named Baby (Ansel Elgort). Baby listens to his now “retro” iPod, which is stacked with his favourite songs, to connect to people and block out his tinnitus. The film pulsates to the tune of his inner soundtrack, and the film itself is choreographed around the music: the opening is one of the best “musical” scenes this side of La La Land in recent memory. Angel meets the girl of his dreams and sees a way out, not remotely like Drive is it? However, his former boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) threatens to harm his girlfriend if he doesn’t comply by doing more heists for him, maybe a role that has its parallels to Spacey’s own personal life? Naturally the heist goes horribly wrong, just as one would expect.
The entire film is just pure cinematic joy, despite obvious parallels to previous films. Angel Elgort and Lily James have real chemistry and are bound to be big stars in the future. The team assembled to perform the heist is rounded off with Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm, who are both reliable actors and are clearly having the time of their life. In what looks increasingly like his last successful film, Spacey plays the scummy Doc, but day by day it’s looking like a role that wasn’t a massive stretch for him. It’s also full of fun cameos from Jon Spencer (whose song “Bellbottoms” is the soundtrack to the opening), Paul Williams, Sky Ferreira, Flea and Bernie Sanders’ favourite rapper, Killer Mike.
It’s shot by Bill Pope, who has become Wright’s go-to DOP ever since he could afford him. He worked with Sam Raimi and The Wachowskis previously. Pope was also a director and cinematographer of music videos through the ’80s and ’90s, so he has the background to mesh the cinematic thrills needed with the continuous soundtrack. I personally find some of the music choices to be the result of Wright listening to the hipper DJs on Radio One, but his use of The Damned’s Neat Neat Neat is a highlight. There is a fun scene of Baby mispronouncing the band T. Rex, which brought back memories of a lecturer I know who had a student who thought The Ramones were pronounced The Ram Ones.
Overall it will be hard to find a more full-on enjoyable film this year, even if film’s final act gets a bit over the top (I did still enjoy it.) It ends just like Drive, as a fairytale love story. Despite the fact that he made his name in Britain, I find Wright’s American films to be more successful, and his quirks meld better with the States—but I’m a Yank, after all. It will be interesting to see if there is a backlash against the film with Kevin Spacey’s prominent role, especially since one of the film’s stars, Jon Bernthal, says said he was a “bully” on set.
Wright is a big fan of special features, so he supplies two commentaries: one solo and the other with Pope. The rest of the disc is full of deleted and extended scenes, featurettes on the making of, animatics, auditions, galleries and more.