Edgar Wright has an extremely good record when it comes to making films. He has gained acclaim for films like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, as well as Scott Pilgrim vs The World. However, all of these are satirical or focused on comedy, which his new film, Baby Driver, is not. So I went into the movie with decent expectations. Sure, Wright is on unfamiliar territorry. Sure, the title is an absolute shocker (Baby Driver, a movie about a getaway driver, has a title more fitting for a nursery bus driver). But the trailers looked good, and much was being made of the soundtrack. I expected a more clever, witty Fast and the Furious-style movie, which is actually pretty much what Baby Driver is.
The plot of the movie is basically this: Baby (Ansel Egort), our unfortunately named eponymous hero, must drive cars for crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) to repay a debt he owes to him.
Let’s start with the positives: Baby Driver is, overall, a good movie. It’s something different that’s not really commonly seen in films these days – an action movie with both excitement, thrills but with an intelligence at the same time. It’s not dumb like, say, Fast and the Furious, it does have some wit about it. There are jokes peppered throughout the film, and a lot of them land pretty well, but they’re sparse enough so that the movie isn’t tired out by the second act. Wright has given the movie a little bit of brain, not on the scale of something like Hell or High Water, but still, it’s not a meathead movie where the sheer excitement of the situation outweighs the improbability. It’s semi-realistic, real enough to suck you in, but not so wild that your suspension of disbelief is smashed. The writing is very good, and for the most part, the main characters, Baby and Doc are well-written.They’re fleshed-out characters that the audience really do care about, and they interact as you would expect as their relationship changes over time. Kevin Spacey is excellent as the crime boss, always seeming cool, calm and collected, but very menacing at the same time, always exhibiting an air of malice that makes him seem a very dangerous man to cross. Egort does well too, evoking the sympathy of the audience despite not talking very much at all for the first act of the movie, mostly communicating in sign language with a deaf relative whom he looks after. It’s not easy to connect with the audience without the use of the spoken word, so credit has to go to Wright for his writing and directing as well as Egort. The car chases and action scenes are exciting to watch, and very well choreographed and shot, with the focus always being on our hero and the stunt driving, which is the main selling point of the movie. The best part of the movie is actually the action scenes, for the innovative editing. The idea is that Baby listens to a certain song while he’s driving, to drown out his tinnitus. However, rather than this just being something to excite the audience, it sets the pacing of the scene, with the editing changing around the tempo and beat of the song.For example, when Baby is listening to ‘Neat Neat Neat’ by the Damned during a heist, the camera cuts with the tempo of the song as a chase ensues. It’s innovative, and adds a great amount of thrill factor, making the heists seem even more whirling, fast-paced and dangerous. It’s a nice technique I’d like to see more of in action movies, giving the soundtrack an important role in setting the pace. There is genuine chemistry between the main character and his love interest, Debora (Lily James), so a scene with them together is always welcome. Overall, the good points do outweigh the bad points, although there are a few of the latter to focus on.
However, of course, there are quite a few issues with Baby Driver. The first major issue was that there wasn’t enough driving, which, in a movie called ‘Baby Driver’, is quite the cardinal sin. Sure, there are a few heists (3 in total), but there’s more talking – and in the third act, gun play – than any actual driving, which is a shame, when the driving is well-edited and fast-paced enough to stoke excitement – we want to see more, but ultimately aren’t really rewarded. Also, the only real creative driving is in the first heist, right at the start, in which there’s a really clever trick involving Baby losing a pursuing police chopper by driving in between two other coincidentally identical red cars, then switching places with one of them in a tunnel, deceiving the police. On the other two heists, its just bog-standard fast driving with a few skids and near misses, when I really expected something a little more innovative for a movie based on driving. More trickery and deception in the driving rather than ramming and sharp turns is what was needed here. Some characters are pretty flat – Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) is unfortunately one-dimensional, as is Bats (Jamie Foxx). They’re reduced to the cliches of the sexed-up femme fatale and the angry, violent antagonist who acts for no reason respectively. In one instance, Bats robs a convenience store when he went in to simply buy gum. Why? The explanation that “he just wants to” seems to be enough for the movie.The whole conflict of the last act boils down to the fact Baby is reluctant to tell anybody he has a girlfriend, which is an illogical decision that has ridiculously big consequences. Baby’s sudden caring about the value of human life, once he gets a girlfriend, seems a little bit of a stretch. After all the heists he has committed, he only starts having a moral panic on the last few when he realises that people might be getting hurt? That’s quite a leap of faith in my suspension of disbelief there. None of these flaws are deal-breakers, it has to be said – Baby Driver is still a very enjoyable action flick. But it does make the process of watching it a lot more frustrating, when flaws like these seem so clear. This could have been a much better movie, but these flaws weren’t ironed out.
In conclusion, Baby Driver is a good movie, but not a great movie. It’s exciting and clever and has a few innovative ideas.The main characters are likable and have normal motivations and reasoning, bar *that* decision by Baby. It’s just a shame that it’s let down by a weak story, weak supporting characters and runs out of exciting, or even good ideas after the second act.
Words by Gabriel Rutherford.