Baby Driver – a movie review


I watched this movie yesterday for two reasons: one good, and the other—eh—not so good.

First, the good reason. I am a fan of Edgar Wright’s previous work, notably Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, perhaps less so of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, although I thought it was well done. I’m going to like The World’s End as well—I just know it—I just haven’t watched it yet; I’m not sure why, but I’ll put it on the “to do” list. Plus, I almost always enjoy a good heist movie.

Now, the other reason. In the current #MeToo climate, I was concerned that every movie with Kevin Spacey in it might suddenly disappear. This is not meant to be an insult to the movement, which I whole-heartedly support. I have enjoyed much of Spacey’s work as an actor. I don’t care that he’s gay (which has to have been the worst-kept secret in Hollywood). If he’s a pedophile as charged, my personal opinion is there is no Hell deep or hot enough for him. So, my watching this movie in no way, shape or form indicates my support of Spacey.

But, I really wanted to see this movie.

I’m glad I watched it. I liked this movie a lot. I didn’t love it, for reasons I’ll mention in a bit, but I certainly like it enough to watch it again in, let’s say, another five years or so. A movie I love, I’m willing to watch once a year, or maybe every other year. A movie I like, every five years. A movie I don’t like, never again. (Although I sometimes have to remind myself of this. Case in point: Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.)

The premise is simple. A young man called “Baby” is a getaway driver who falls in love with a waitress named Debora and wants to leave the criminal life behind.

Yeah, I know. This wouldn’t make me want to watch the movie either. The movie itself is about more than its premise. It’s about style. And music. And kickass driving stunts.

Wright himself listed as influences what he called The Holy Trinity of 1990s pulp fiction: Point Break, Reservoir Dogs, and Heat. And, yes, it’s all in there, and gloriously so. Wright also noted that he tried to design the movie like a Hong Kong movie or a musical, with five setpieces. That’s in there, too. Plus, it’s very much a car movie, like The Fast and the Furious or, maybe—spitballing here—The Transporter. I also detect some Bullitt and Vanishing Point as well. It is definitely a crime thriller, not a comedy, although it has some genuinely funny moments.

I was happy to read that Wright acknowledged Reservoir Dogs as an influence, because I felt a huge Tarantino imprint on the film, especially in the use of music. Baby Driver has an eclectically awesome soundtrack, from Dave Brubeck to Young MC (and, of course, Simon & Garfunkle’s “Baby Driver”). A part of the premise that I left out is that Baby always has his ear buds in and is listening to music, which is the only thing that can drown out the tinnitus he suffers from. His parents died in an automobile accident when he was young, but his foster dad is deaf, so Baby can read lips. Every song in the movie is a song that Baby is listening to, so, in a sense, the character is creating the movie’s soundtrack as he goes along.

But, the music is more than just a soundtrack. When Wright has referred to this movie as a “musical,” he wasn’t being entirely faceitious. This movie is choreographed, whether Baby is walking down the street on a coffee run or executing hairpin turns to escape a police pursuit. Most of the stunt work is in-camera rather than digital, which is both refreshing and exhilirating. And it was obvious that the movie’s young star, Ansel Elgort, was a trained dancer even before I looked him up. If all of this wasn’t impressive enough—and it is—I was always amazed when characters mouthed the lyrics to songs that were playing, perfectly in synch. I can’t even begin to imagine the editing challenges this had to present.

The opening car chase scene in Atlanta, expertly choreographed to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms” is a thing of near-perfect beauty. It was this scene that Wright first imagined over twenty years ago while listening to the same track. I always like a good car stunt scene, but this one is elevated to art. I’m not being hyperbolic. Even if you don’t watch the movie, watch this scene and you’ll agree with me.

The coffee-getting scene set to “Harlem Shuffle” also deserves honorable mention. I could go on, but it’s like that throughout the movie.

Enough gushing. Now, I need to tell you why it’s just a “like” and not a “love” from me, even though it’s obvious that there was a lot that I loved here.

The story itself has little substance. I mean, even less than you would expect from a run-of-the-mill action thriller. Baby’s backstory about being orphaned in a car accident is at best one-note, but it’s replayed throughout the movie. The love story between Baby and Debora is thin. And, I found it difficult to buy into the relationship between Baby and Pop. Something about it doesn’t ring true to me throughout the movie. All of that’s okay, because it’s only window dressing for the action sequences. I should say the car chase sequences, since the heists themselves are mostly off-screen, much like the one in Reservoir Dogs.

The other part about the movie that bothered me was the twist. Not the part where Baby thought he was out of the criminal life and was forcibly pulled back in by Kevin Spacey’s character. That was expected. In fact, it wasn’t a twist at all, because it was telegraphed; there was no movie without it. I’m talking about the twist that occurred after Baby had double-crossed his squad and went back to Spacey to get a tape recording his mom had made. Spacey had already threatened to kill everyone Baby loved before this point. But, then his character has a sudden, not-really-explained change of heart, gives Baby money and his blessing to run for the border. Nope. Not buying it. It wouldn’t have happened this way.

Other than that, I’d say all of the actors did a fine job selling their roles, including Jon Berenthal (briefly), Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx, although I never really buy Foxx in tough guy roles because he’s just too funny. Kevin Spacey was also good as the head bad guy, at least until the uncharacteristic twist I already mentioned.

So, do I recommend this movie? Absolutely, but with the caveat that it’s a lot of style overpowering the substance in the film. But what style!

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