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Baby Driver Review

By Lora Grady

Baby on Board

Think about how much trust it takes to get into a car when someone else is behind the wheel. Even if you know where you're going you must trust the driver to pick the best route, have the skill to operate the equipment, know the rules of the road. You believe the driver will do their job and get you there, so you're free to settle in and enjoy the ride. Watching a movie is a similar experience: you're putting your trust in the director to take you on a journey. You're letting them control the action, mold your experience, deliver you to a new destination. With any luck you'll see a few entertaining things along the way.

Within the first five minutes of director Edgar Wright's "Baby Driver" you'll know that you can trust your driver, and that you're in for a hell of a ride. You may not know exactly where you're headed, but from the moment the strains of the John Spencer Blues Explosion's "Bellbottoms" blast onto the soundtrack and you see Baby (Ansel Elgort, "The Fault in Our Stars") swaying and lip-synching behind the wheel of a bright red sports car as his cohorts tear through a quick stickup in the bank behind him, you can be sure that you are in fact in the hands of two daring, skilled, supremely creative drivers: Baby knows the rules of the road and how to break them in spectacular fashion, and so does Mr. Wright.


Baby's the getaway driver for a criminal gang whose rotating membership includes the handsome, psychotic Buddy (Jon Hamm, Mad Men), his devoted girlfriend Monica aka "Darling" (Eiza Gonzalez, "Jem and the Holograms"), the trigger-tempered Bats (Jamie Foxx, "Annie"), and tough-talking Griff (Jon Bernthal, "The Accountant"). They're led by Doc (Kevin Spacey, House of Cards), a cool-headed criminal kingpin with a wry sense of humor and a mysterious hold over Baby.

In the opener the robbers wrap up their holdup, jump in the car, and trust Baby to handle their escape. And handle it he does: the pedal-stomping, metal-shearing, maximum-speed getaway sequence is some of the most exhilarating stuff you'll see onscreen this year. Baby accomplishes this feat of fancy driving without removing the ever-present headphones feeding him his own personal soundtrack; throughout the film we hear what he's hearing, and it's a wall-to-wall conglomeration of tunes providing a perfect counterpoint to the action. Gang member Griff is flabbergasted by the headphones. As they meet up with Doc post-heist he barely tolerates their ringleader's explanation: Baby suffers from tinnitus, the result of a childhood car accident that killed his parents, and the constant flow of music keeps the ringing in his ears at bay.

We learn why Baby has been driving for Doc, and that he stashes his cash from each job under the floorboards of the place he shares with his deaf foster father Joe (CJ Jones). He's restless and disconnected until he meets Debora (Lily James, "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies"), a waitress at the local diner. They bond over music and a mutual desire to hop on the road and find some better future. Bolstered by this dream, Baby decides to make a break from the gang, but Doc wants him aboard for the proverbial "one last job."

"Baby Driver" is less about the destination and more about the journey, so it doesn't do to dwell on the plot - just go along for the ride. This film really is an experience: gorgeously orchestrated car chases, gonzo gun battles, top-notch actors volleying one-liners or spitting cynical speeches, the tension of earnest young lovers pitted against the pull of the criminal underground, and oh, that soundtrack. Woven throughout are such gems as Bob & Earl's "Harlem Shuffle," The Modern Lovers' "Egyptian Reggae," "Neat Neat Neat" from The Damned, Golden Earring's "Radar Love," and, like a shimmering hallelujah crescendo, "Brighton Rock" by Queen. Each song is knit inextricably into the action; Mr. Wright built his screenplay around and was inspired by these tunes, and scenes were choreographed to match. The result? The immersive melding of sight and sound in "Baby Driver" is slick but also surprisingly natural, and utterly exhilarating.

An artfully heightened crime drama it may be, but "Baby Driver" is also quick with the zingers. Mr. Spacey's Doc is given some of the best verbal volleys, and the actor approaches them like a savvy con man who's talking just to play with the music of the words because he knows he's already got you hooked. As a former financier who's fallen into a life of crime, Mr. Hamm's comedic flair is on display but he's also quick to shift into convincingly passionate rage as matters take a turn for his character. Mr. Foxx's Bats is the amoral heart of the gang and the actor clearly relishes the opportunity to explore his character's nihilistic worldview, playing effectively against Mr. Elgort's callow calm. As for Mr. Elgort, he's a wonderfully appealing leading man, equally at ease with the many facets of the role from action star to romantic hero to conflicted moral center. He also has fun with the film's many comic moments; watch for his throwaway exchange with one of the gang who appears to have the word "hat" tattooed on his neck.

"Baby Driver" makes an indelible impression with the novelty of its main character, the ecstatic aural assault of its soundtrack, the balletic boldness of its breakneck car chases. But the real takeaway here is the passion that's evident in every frame of the film. Mr. Wright's love for the medium is unmistakable, and "Baby Driver" is a joyous celebration of celluloid storytelling. So buckle up, settle in, and let him take you for a ride: he knows where he's going.

What did you think?

Movie title Baby Driver
Release year 2017
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary This pedal-stomping, metal-shearing, maximum-speed celebration of celluloid storytelling may be the most exhilarating thing you'll see onscreen this year.
View all articles by Lora Grady
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