By Marty Mulrooney
Baby Driver is a musical crime drama directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End) starring Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Eiza González, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx and Jon Bernthal. Baby – young Mozart in a go-kart – is the best getaway driver in town, working with some of the country’s finest thugs to pay off a debt from his past. He only has a few more jobs left before he’s out… but in the criminal underworld, things are never that simple.
As criminal mastermind Doc reminds his crew, people love great bank robbery stories. The plot of Baby Driver may sound like a cliché – a criminal with a heart tries to leave behind a life of crime after one last job – but its unique musical take on the crime genre dials the originality up to eleven. From the opening bank robbery and subsequent car chase – burning rubber to the tune of Bellbottoms by The John Spencer Blues Explosion – to a final, fateful turn of the ignition key on an empty bridge, Baby Driver never stops engaging and entertaining. To quote Doc again, it’s bold and brazen as f*ck.
It all comes down to the incredible ensemble cast: this is a character-driven movie first and foremost. Each character has a clearly defined personality and goals. Baby (Ansel Elgort) is at the forefront of course, constantly listening to his iPod to drown out the incessant ‘hum in the drum’ caused by a tragic childhood car crash. Elgort manages to be cocky while remaining likeable, vulnerable without ever seeming weak. Then there’s Debora (the charming Lily James), a waitress who immediately connects with Baby when she starts talking to him about music while serving him his morning coffee. The chemistry between them is adorable and their love story never feels forced or unwelcome as a result.
Doc (played deliciously deadpan by Kevin Spacey) is obviously a guy you don’t want to mess with. Although he’s effectively forcing Baby into a life of crime, you can tell they have a history and he has a genuine fondness for the kid. The rest of the crew cover the entire spectrum of colourful criminal types, from the one with mental problems – Bats, Jamie Foxx at his most threatening – to the married couple who get off on crime – Buddy and Darling, played with often uncomfortable hypersexuality by Jon Hamm and Eiza González.
They’re just the main players. Even the bit parts are fantastic, with Jon Bernthal making an impression that lasts long after he exits the stage/elevator. Special mention must also be given to deaf actor CJ Jones, who lights up the screen as Joseph, Baby’s foster father. Each character wants something. Debora wants to connect with someone. Joseph wants Baby to stop robbing banks. Bats wants to cause as much death and destruction as possible. Buddy and Darling want to steal and make love so much that the line between the two acts becomes blurred beyond recognition. Doc just wants his robberies to go smoothly. Not everyone will get what they want.
Yet this is Baby’s story and it’s a surprisingly emotional one. For every supercool, perfectly timed music video moment – a shootout to the sound of Tequila by Button Down Brass, a foot chase underscored by the rocky yodelling of Hocus Pocus by Focus – there’s a quieter moment – Baby trying to do right by his stepfather, Doc’s hard façade cracking ever so slightly – that makes all the expertly directed action sequences actually matter. This is a film that looks and sounds incredible, before going the extra mile to make you give a damn.
Jamie Foxx gives a career-best performance as the guy you’ll love to hate, but it’s actually Jon Hamm that ends up stealing the limelight. To go from playing a suave advertiser in Mad Men to a charming criminal that becomes formidable when he sees red shows incredible range. He chews the scenery with increasing ferocity as the end draws near and his character will no doubt come to mind every time you hear Brighton Rock by Queen from now on.
Baby Driver is the most entertaining film of the year. It’s the perfect marriage of music and visuals, with gunshots and squealing tires punctuating the beat. Edgar Wright deserves a standing ovation for the eclectic soundtrack alone. His talent has only grown since he directed Spaced for Channel 4 in the late ’90s/early ’00s. Wright parting ways with Marvel Studios and not directing Ant-Man due to ‘creative differences’ was a blessing in disguise. Baby Driver is his best feature film to date.
10 OUT OF 10