BABY DRIVER Review: 9 out of 10 (Racing with the Tune)
BABY DRIVER might not be the best film of the year at the close of 2017, but it will certainly be able to make an argument for something else: the most fun you will have in a movie theater this year. Writer/Director Edgar Wright seems determined to offer this to the audience--and BABY DRIVER is an absolute joy of a movie--fueled by great performances, kinetic action, and a fantastic soundtrack that many will be downloading as they leave the theater. Hell, I was. Starring Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González, Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx, this Crime-Action-Heist-Romance-Comedy-Musical is a genre-bending experience that shouldn't work. It is a high-wire act of filmic combination that sounds awful on paper but is cooking with gas on the big screen.
Ansel Elgort plays Baby--a young and talented getaway driver who works for Doc (Kevin Spacey) who is an underworld lord and mastermind behind several heists. Baby has tinnitus--a buzz in his ears from an accident he was in as a child. He blocks out this buzz with his own personal soundtrack which also works to heighten his focus and reflexes as a driver to extreme levels. Baby works with a rotating crew of robbers that Doc uses--including Buddy, Bats, Griff, and Darling, played by Hamm, Foxx, Bernthal, and Gonzalez respectively. These robbers are a salty type who don't seem to understand the enigmatic young wheelman with the iPod and headphones. Despite his driving talents, this tension grows among his criminal peers. Once Baby finds love in a waitress played by Lily James, he agrees to one last job so he can get out of the criminal life forever. But there never is "one last job" is there?
Elgort gives the character Baby a great mix of mystery and innocence. A soft-spoken introvert in conversations, he dances like no one is watching when his earbuds are in. Elgort takes what could be a flat character and adds nuance throughout that makes him endearing. Wright is artful as he lets Baby's music work as a diegetic pulse for the film. The music here isn't for the audience, but instead, it is for Baby--and we are just there as witnesses to his life soundtrack. In doing this, Wright is careful to create scenes and action on screen that matches the music in Baby's ears...or vice versa as Baby himself rushes to find a song on his iPod that matches the experience he is living out. As a result, the music isn't just background. It informs the audience--and even offers pathos to Baby-- we rock out with him, race down the street, and shed a tear. With 30 tracks in the film that range from country to rap, reggae to rock, it is a mainline rush of music and action that works as a true innovation of visual and aural storytelling. Spacey is the anchor of the film here as the ominous Doc--a professional criminal in every sense of the word. The cast of criminals Baby and Doc work with ranges from the ridiculous to bloodthirsty, but all of them crackle with energy.
BABY DRIVER is a creative breakthrough by Wright who has easily made the coolest film of the summer. It offers genre homage while still being wildly original. Beyond that, the film is just flat out fun. In a summer full of tired also-ran sequels, reboots, and unnecessary ideas, BABY DRIVER is a blast of fresh air at 100 miles an hour...with the top down.