Ansel Elgort plays Baby, an ace young getaway driver with one unusual condition: he needs to listen to music constantly (via his trusty iPod) to drown out the tinnitus left by a tragic event that occurred during his youth. While many of the crooks-for-hire he is assigned with don’t trust him, the boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) counts on him every time. After each job, he goes home to look after his mute surrogate father Joseph (CJ Jones), stack his cash under a loose floorboard, and make mixes with snippets of dialogue he has recorded from daily life.
After a job with the near-psychotic Bats (Jamie Foxx) ends violent chaos, Baby is happy to learn that he has paid off his dues with Doc, and hence is free of his clutches. He now has the time to date charming waitress Debora (Lily James), and get by as an extra-quick pizza delivery boy. Unfortunately, at the end of a special date at a fancy restaurant, Doc approaches him again and coerces him into taking on yet another job - this time for “real money”. Can he escape his life of crime and ride out of town with the girl of his dreams?
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Baby Driver is a mix of action, comedy, romance and musical that not only works as all of those, but does so with a certain sense of effortless cinematic cool that cannot be faked. It’s the kind of iconic cool that made Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction such a classic - one that the same director hasn’t quite captured since, because it just happens rather than being deliberately manufactured. The film’s pure love of the heightened pleasure of cinema is also reminiscent of La La Land in its fantastic symphony of colour and camerawork. Just like Baby himself, the film has a feel for groove and rhythm that pervades every scene, making it a joy even if we are watching something as banal as the titular character walking down the street. As with Wright’s previous films, there’s an affectionate sense of nostalgia in abundance here - that of favourite pop songs and films being pulled out like gems from the past and presented in the kind of glorious fashion that takes their greatness and fuses it into something new and equally special.
Above all, there’s a real sense of heart and characters we can root for in all of this - be it the use of T-Rex’s song Debora, listened together on single earbuds by Baby and (yes) Debora, or the unselfish pseudo-familial relationship between hearing-impaired Baby and mute Joseph. There’s not a whiff of cynicism anywhere in the film’s approach, even if there is a surplus of it in many of the other criminals who inhabit this world.
While the casting is great throughout, a number of the performances are particularly notable. Ansel Elgort is great as a stoic “man of few words” hero, who later in the course of the film manages to make real emotional impact despite his initially cool surface. Jamie Foxx is also lots of fun as a tough, mean bank robber who is clearly beyond any possibilities for rehabilitatory help from an anger management counsellor. Real-life deaf actor CJ Jones is touchingly expressive using only his face and body language in lieu of spoken dialogue. Spacey oozes thinly-veiled menace under his character’s slick, slimy demeanour. Brogan Hall also steals the one sequence he is in as Doc’s 8 year old nephew, who hilariously turns out to be rather more clued up on his uncle’s occupation than someone his age should be.
However, despite loving Baby Driver to bits, I can’t quite rate it five stars. For one thing, the film’s plot arc is as cliched as they come; yet again that old “retired criminal is coaxed into one last job” trope has been exhumed. Also, while most of the film’s action sequences are fantastically put together, the final one is somewhat messily edited and has a couple of particularly silly “character X somehow escapes death” moments. Still, it’s probably the best thing you will catch in the multiplexes this summer - and if it’s not Edgar Wright’s finest film to date, it’s still safe to say that it’s the best since his debut Shaun of the Dead.
Runtime: 113 mins
Dir: Edgar Wright
Script: Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Eiza González, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, CJ Jones, Brogan Hall