Written and Directed by Edgar Wright, Baby Driver is a fun, kinetic crime film with a winning cast and a wonderful sense of motion and, of course, a great soundtrack. Baby (Ansel Elgort), as he is known to his criminal compatriots, is an otherworldly talented wheel man, employed by Doc (Kevin Spacey) a criminal mastermind who organizes and plans bank heists in Atlanta. Having paid off his debts to Doc and met a nice girl at a local diner, Debora (Lilly James) Baby attempts to get out of the criminal life with violent and mixed results.
That is the basic premise, and it’s a good one really, but what makes this movie a bit more fun than other car and chase based movies is the solid performances and that magic touch that Edgar Wright adds to the movie. The movie opens with Baby in a car waiting for the other members of his team to finish robbing a bank. And then Baby turns on some music and a whole side of the movie opens up for the viewer. He starts dancing in his seat, singing along to the music in almost a compulsive way and almost doesn’t seem to be paying attention to the outside world, even though he facilitates their escape brilliantly. Music is a huge aspect of this film and it’s used really well throughout the film. Baby suffers from Tinnitus and thus uses music as remedy to that but since he always has earbuds in, he also is weirdly shielded from the rest of the world. You get the impression that if he could live just between his earbuds, he would. While at first, I found the constant wheeling and dealing of new songs and other characters constantly berating him and talking to him about the whole music gimmick a little annoying at first, it grew on me and I came to really enjoy it both as a part of his character and a fun twist on the movie. Baby needs music to function, and without it he is discombobulated and frustrated with who the world works. He’s like an overt example of what most of us would be like if we didn’t have music, or if we were suddenly cut off from it completely. I don’t claim to understand music that well, there is a reason I never review it here, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love it. Imagine a world without it? Sounds terrible, right? Baby is that idea made flesh and it added a really nice sense of desperation to him when others messed to his music. Plus, his use of iPod’s is a pretty funny gag that runs throughout the movie. I never had one of the round dial models from what feels like a century ago, but I still appreciated the gag.
I’m not familiar with Ansel Elgort, but I ended up really enjoying his performance. Baby is an odd main character; he is extremely capable, smart, and definitely proactive in moving the movie forward, but he’s also a borderline shut in who would sit by himself if he could. But Elgort plays that weirdness really well. He’s a funny, low key kind of guy whose odd sense of innocence justifies the actions of the movie really well. The only time his closed off personality fades is when he drives, dances around to music or talks to his love interest Deborah. Sadly, while Lily James is likable enough in this film, she doesn’t have that much to actually do. Her role is essentially just to wait around for Baby, whether it’s during the movie or the brief epilogue at the end. I like her, and she and Elgort have a nice chemistry together, but sadly she’s not well served by the movie at all. She is extremely passive, underwritten and underdeveloped. They connect throughout the movie over their shared love of music. The magic of music is that anybody can know a ton about it so their expansive conversations about it never feels overly nerdy or unrealistic.
Other casts members get much more to do. Kevin Spacey is really fun as the criminal mastermind who runs the show. He is polite, calm and dangerous all at the same time. There is a turn at the end of the movie with his character that is not quite believable, but he is great throughout. His relationship with his nephew is especially funny and entertaining. John Hamm and Jamie Foxx both play recurring members of the crew; Hamm comes off as the measured thrill seeker who is reliable and wants to get the job done while Foxx plays a much more antagonist, almost cartoonish character whose analysis and intuitive understanding of the other characters is almost as superhuman as Baby’s driving skills. Both performances are great but some stuff happens in the last third of the movie that pushes Hamm’s performance over the top; he becomes menacing and scary really quick and turns the movie on its ear. That’s good in that it’s a cool turn and he does a good job, but it leads to a slightly clunky ending that doesn’t feel quite right. The other recurring character is played by Eiza Gonzalez, who much like James, doesn’t have much to do besides hang out, though she is not nearly as passive as James’ role is. Does Edgar Wright have a woman problem I have never noticed before? Hmmm…
Besides the really strong performances, the action is really great. Edgar Wright and the stunt supervisors really pull off some awesome car scenes. Like I said, the movie opens with a truly great chase scene that is fun and immediately sets the tone for the rest of the movie. For being a car based film the movie even pulls off a really good chase scene on foot that I really enjoyed. I think that the ending of the movie is way too long and kind of anticlimactic, but that’s not such a big deal really; most of the movie is fun enough that you pretty quickly forget the less than stellar stuff. Baby Driver is a fun, well-made crime movie that has just enough Edgar Wright mixed into it to make it more memorable than maybe it ought to be.
That all being said, I find myself liking the movie, not loving the movie. Everything about it would appear to be pretty great; it’s a fun story with some really great performances and the chase scenes are all really fun. But something about the movie never quite connected with me; the odd character turns, a weird main character who is charming and not all at the same time just left me slightly cold to the movie. I would recommend this movie, I recognize the merits of Baby Driver on an objective level, but the overall piece just slightly underwhelmed me.