Set in Atlanta, Baby Driver is the story of the titular Baby (Ansel Elgort), who is a getaway driver for crime lord Doc (Kevin Spacey). Baby is working off a debt and is quickly approaching his last job. He’s also falling in love with a young waitress named Debora (Lily James) with plans to run away together. But alas, the world of crime never makes things that easy.
On the way out of Baby Driver, I had to make a phone call. Not so much to talk about the movie, though I certainly did plenty of that. But it was more to control myself, because I figured calling a family member would keep my head on straight and keep me from making life imitate art and barreling down I-85 at a hundred miles an hour with the radio blasting.
Baby Driver is pure cinema, motion and image and sound cut together in the way that only a master could do it. Writer/Director Edgar Wright, long one of our most sheerly thrilling working directors, has crafted something that functions like a shot of film adrenaline best injected directly into the heart. An action thrill-ride with a sweetness at the core, Baby Driver is as good a time as you can have at the movies.
Much of that is do to that aforementioned sense of motion. Baby Driver takes no time to get moving, to get exciting, to get a sense that things are happening. We open with Baby, headphones in, rocking out to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and grooving along to the rhythm. Then a car chase through an implausibly empty Atlanta street.
Baby Driver understands cinema is a unique art form because of its sense of motion. The more movement, the more engagement, the more you can convey cinematic scope and emotion and action. Baby Driver never stops moving. If the car isn’t driving, our characters are shooting or dancing or the soundtrack is keeping the action pumping along.
But the skill of Edgar Wright is that the motion never feels overwhelming. Rather than something like Bayhem where the constant action serves to distract, Wright uses the constant action to engage. Baby Driver glides effortlessly from scene to scene, never breaking its stride, always imparting new information and new flavor and new bits of stunning setpieces.
Wright has always excelled at action, but Baby Driver continues his Scott Pilgrim American style, huge setpieces marked with a lot of quoting from Wright’s influences. You can see the work of filmmakers like George Miller and Walter Hill all over the film, but with Wright’s own musical twist here.
Yeah, Baby Driver isn’t a full-blown musical, but it’s about as close as you can get without the characters singing. Every scene is cut to the soundtrack, but it’s most explicit during the action sequences. There’s a mid-film shootout set to “Tequila” that’s just the bee’s damned knees.
That “Tequila” sequence is what Wright brings to a film like this. There’s a sense of fun and a looseness even for a film that’s as tightly controlled in its filmmaking as this one is. Baby Driver just pops off the screen at almost every opportunity it gets.
It even makes its location pop off the screen. As an Atlanta resident, it’s rare to get to see my city play itself. It’s even rarer to see it so well-represented. Wright gives Atlanta its unique character, a huge sprawling urban place with a lot of age and culture to its people, something distinctively Southern and distinctively urban all at once, a culture formed by a hundred influences and a hundred crossroads.
Though, to be fair, driving as fast as these people do on I-85 is just unrealistic.
Of course, your cast is exceptional too. Ansel Elgort has never particularly impressed me, but here his seeming stiffness comes into play, letting it become a part of his charm. This is probably one of Spacey’s best movie roles in a while, Jaime Foxx is a thrill as always, and Lily James is a delight to watch. The stealth MVP of the movie though is Jon Hamm, whose unraveling and psychotic criminal Buddy never loses his ability to surprise.
Baby Driver is just a near-perfect cinematic experience. There’s nothing less and nothing more that can be said. Edgar Wright has created pure cinematic joy that needs to be seen on a big screen.