There’s a refreshing swagger to Edgar Wright’s latest creation, drifting on to the screen with irresistibly brash confidence, popping the clutch, downshifting the gears and roaring past the sluggish, lumbering summer blockbuster behemoths. Sure, “Baby Driver” could have a smug-off with Ben Wheatley’s “Free Fire”, but “Baby Driver” ultimately earns its sense of self-satisfaction.
Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a young, prodigiously talented getaway driver, working for Doc (Kevin Spacey) to pay off a long-standing debt. Injured in a childhood accident, Baby uses constant music to drown out a severe case of tinnitus. After pulling off one last heist clears his debt, Baby looks forward to a normal life but when Doc gathers his best people – Bats (Jamie Foxx), Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza González) – back together for one more big score, Baby finds himself on the drive of his life.
If your favourite Edgar Wright film to date is “Scott Pilgrim vs The World”, then prepare to have a new number one, because where “Baby Driver” really succeeds is in taking that pop-culture infused gimmickry and blending it seamlessly into the background of this deceptively lightweight crime caper. There’s room too for the dryly ironic wit of the “Cornetto” trilogy and thanks to the pitch-perfect cast, nothing is lost in the transatlantic translation.
While the action sequences are as impressive as you’ll be expecting from the glimpses in the trailer, it’s in the character work “Baby Driver” really shines. A master class in character development without the need for heavy expository scenes, it’s not only Baby whose story is explored in multifaceted ways but every other character feels authentic and multi-dimensional.
Performance-wise, Elgort’s smirking confidence restates his case for being robbed of the role of Han Solo in the forthcoming “Star Wars” spin-off but in a largely unspeaking role, he owns the screen, a talisman of cool compassion amidst the violence and chaos around him, although there’s a hint of a darker edge to him, not quite hidden but merely…suppressed? He’s counterpointed by the manic, unnerving edginess of Jamie Foxx’s Bats and the brooding menace of Jon Hamm’s Buddy. Holding this ragtag band together is Kevin Spacey’s wonderfully ambiguous and yet single-mindedly ruthless crime lord.
No review of “Baby Driver” would be complete without touching on the one thing which outshines even the all-star cast: the soundtrack. Defining a central character’s emotional core and personal history through an expertly curated soundtrack has been done to tremendous effect already in “Guardians Of The Galaxy” and the parallels don’t end there as music provides an important linkage to a cruelly taken mother and lost past. Where Wright takes it a step further is the link for Baby is not a nostalgic one, preserved in rose-tinted amber but a living, growing, abiding love for music. Yes, “Guardians” did it first and then “Suicide Squad” came along and did it worst, showing that it’s so much more than grabbing a handful of iconic songs and throwing them onscreen. “Baby Driver” does it best, in context, thanks to Wright’s eclectic and archly hipsterish compilation infusing the film with an attitude so cool it sends shivers down your spine although the music here is more symbiotically linked to the imagery and may not thrive as well separated from the film itself. There’s a lot of “Baby Driver” that, taken individually, feels like movie déjà vu: the sly soundtracks of James Gunn, the kinetic camera work of Rob Cohen’s “The Fast & The Furious” or the swirling orbits of Michael Bay, the rubber mask robberies of “Point Break” but Wright’s genius is in curating them together like a pop culture mix tape, celebrating and enhancing each element through the blending rather than mocking them in pastiche, elevating the act of compilation to a whole new level. This isn’t just Edgar Wright’s best movie, it might be 2017’s best movie too.