From the first car chase – set to ‘Bellbottoms’ – Baby Driver makes its mission clear in a manner not unlike Damien Chazelle’s crossover hit La La Land: this is another untraditional musical. Doubling down on the blend of action and rock from Scott Pilgrim, Wright places the ideals of the musical against the backdrop of a crime thriller. Baby Driver replaces emotional, show-stopping numbers with audacious action; the constant sing-song of something like Umbrellas of Cherbourg instead takes the form of a playlist curated by the mostly silent protagonist, ‘Baby’ (Elgort).
The action perfectly matches the rhythm of whatever song is playing. Drum beats and guitar are accentuated by gunshots, gear-shifts and punches, and Wright’s distinctive editing style and camerawork.
The action and songs serve the same purpose as a song in a musical: expressing things otherwise left unsaid. Baby finds freedom through music, and behind the wheel of whatever car he gets his hands on. And what spectacular set pieces they are – the action is outrageous, but Wright’s insistence on everything being done in-camera means it never feels cartoonish.
Baby makes for a compelling protagonist. Silent and skilled like Ryan Gosling’s Driver, cocksure like Peter Quill, and often surprisingly vulnerable, Wright mines plenty of emotion and tension from narratives well-trodden.
That said, the refined spectacle is the main attraction, and characters are mainly just entertaining spins on stock types from the crime genre – particular highlights are Foxx’s unhinged Bats, and Spacey’s Doc, master of deadpan. Unfortunately, James and González feel short-changed by comparison.
A somewhat unremarkable narrative (and unmemorable roles for the women) doesn’t slow down Baby Driver. Wright’s perfectionism is felt throughout the film, which might be his leanest, most efficient work to date. It’s thrilling filmmaking, a total blast, and rarely misses a beat.
CAST: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Eiza González
DIRECTOR: Edgar Wright
WRITER: Edgar Wright
SYNOPSIS: After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.