I cannot tell you, with any degree of certainty, how many heist films I’ve absorbed over my lifetime. It’s a genre that speaks to many of us, as ultimately the allure of a movie is often to take you away from your rote existence, to escape. And what yanks you out of a mundane reality – one where we walk the line of the law every day, following the rules and guidelines society deems necessary – more than a tale of criminal masterminds banding together to pull off that perfect score? And what does every great heist need in its arsenal of tricks and tropes? A top-of-the-line, one-of-a-kind, getaway driver. A Baby Driver, if you will.
Director Edgar Wright slams his most mainstream film on the track and kicks it to 5th gear barely before even leaving the garage. As we’re first introduced to Baby (Ansel Elgort), we are witness to an obvious crime-in-waiting, though Wright refuses to waste our time observing yet another guns drawn shoot-out. Instead, we stay with Baby, safely in the car. An angelic face of innocence, complimented by his stylish ’80s sunglasses, Baby is not your typical bandit. He’s calm, focused on the mission at hand, but with a pep in his step and a beat in his head.
See, much like a ’50s musical, Baby is driven both figuratively and quite literally by the tempo. As our getaway unfolds, we’re sucked into one of many blissful car chases – yes, I mean blissful – as Baby rounds every corner and accelerates each movement to the music hitting his ears. It’s a classic mishmash of Hollywood action and Broadway showmanship, as even a quick coffee run turns into something straight out of a Fred Astaire gem. And that is the movie Edgar Wright came here to tell.
Indebted to a local crime boss of sorts known as Doc (Kevin Spacey), Baby is finally nearing that “one last job”. He’s met the love of his life in Debora – a local waitress played by the effortlessly enchanting Lily James – and he wants out, and fast. Doc hatches a final heist that will set both him up and Baby free, with a team – consisting of Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm, both playfully against type, and Eiza González in a breakout role – struggling to adjust to Baby’s antics. Things go wrong, as they must, and Baby is forced to utilize his unique set of skills if he wants to slip away with Debora unscathed.
While there are no real loose ends in the film, there are two key components to this endeavor that keep the motor humming. The first is the shockingly electric Ansel Elgort. Not to say that Elgort hasn’t handled strong work before, but nothing in his bag of tricks comes close to the level of control he manages in every frame as Baby. There is a fluidity to his performance here that clashes directly with the heroes of today’s action films, and instead of the typical machismo wrapped up in ass-kickery, Elgort adorns the screen with subtlety and grace, a reminder of musicals from the past. Elgort’s charm and movement is far more reminiscent of Gene Kelly than Jason Statham, and is quite a beautiful accomplishment to behold.
The second is Edgar Wright. As a director, Wright has received critical acclaim for most of his career. To be honest, it’s never truly clicked with me personally. While Shaun of the Dead is a diamond in a rough of zombie lunacy, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was the epitome of trying far too hard. For the first time, I clearly see what Wright brings to the table. His meticulous cutting of each scene showcases the level of love and care Wright infuses into this film, with each gear shift and corner turn matching the energy of his pitch-perfect soundtrack.
Wright stages each car chase and action set-piece with a musicality and finesse no other filmmaker has honestly ever approached, more joy and whimsy than chest-bumping bravado. The vehicles are performers in the film, each one choreographed in a metal-on-metal dance-off, where CGI is left at the curb. Wright eschews modern tropes from films such as The Fast and the Furious, where each chase elicits the audience’s desire to race home at the speed of light after each film, and instead evokes a bit of the Bohemian Rhapsody rendition in Wayne’s World, where you and your friends will leave the theater desperately trying to recreate each masterful turn while bopping your heads to the tune of Baby Driver’s eclectic playlist.
Heist films have been done to death and, they have finally been given a fresh taste of life. With a top-notch cast, a stellar lead performance from Ansel Elgort, one of the most memorable soundtracks in forever, and an indie director who just danced all over his mainstream rivals: Baby Driver is the sizzling solution to this summer’s lack of heat.
Starring Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Lily James
Written by Edgar Wright
Directed by Edgar Wright