The explosion of independent cinema in the 1970s resulted in a seismic evolution of the action film. In the U.S. in particular, cinema screens began bursting with high-octane, breakneck car-oriented films from great directors such as Walter Hill and George Miller. Many directors have tried to emulate this style in recent years, occasionally to great success, such as Tarantino’s wonderful ‘Death Proof’ (2007), but perhaps none have done so with quite the breathtaking skill that acclaimed filmmaker Edgar Wright does with his latest film ‘Baby Driver’. Where others have produced elaborate pastiches or cinematic love letters, Wright elevates his passion into something extraordinary, something so original that it keeps you poised on the edge of your seat in breathless anticipation.
Baby (Ansel Elgort, 'Allegiant', 'The Fault in Our Stars') is a young man with remarkable skills behind the wheel, working as a getaway driver for crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey, 'American Beauty', TV's 'House Of Cards'). What makes Baby unique is that he constantly listens to music as a way to drown out a persistent ringing in his ear, providing his daily life with a self-curated soundtrack. When he falls for waitress Debora (Lily James, 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies', 'Cinderella'), he sees an opportunity to escape his uncomfortable career and make a life for himself, Debora and his deaf adopted father Joseph (C.J. Jones). His dream is threatened though by Bats (Jamie Foxx, 'Django Unchained', 'Ray'), a violent thug who threatens to derail his latest job and throw Baby into a terrible trap he may not be able to get himself out of.
Wright has always been one of the most original and imaginative directors working today, from his Cornetto Trilogy with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost to his masterpiece ‘Scott Pilgrim vs the World’ (2010). And yet, ’Baby Driver’ feels like a massive leap forward for him, all the more shocking for a director whose aptitude was already impressive. The clarity of vision, imagination and execution are a wonder to behold, culminating in a rip-roaring action extravaganza that’s equal parts thrilling, hilarious, nerve-wracking and ecstatic. Baby is an instant cinematic icon, a twenty-first century James Dean decked out in a bomber jacket, dark sunglasses, headphones and a cool expression that says nothing and everything all at once, oozing charm, mystery, warmth and danger. His universe is dominated by incredible cars and even better music, his personal soundtrack turning the world around him into a never-ending symphony. Wright and his remarkable team fall into step, the music informing the film's visual and kinetic rhythms. Many have equated ‘Baby Driver’ to a musical, and its easy to see why this connection works - the marriage between image and music in ‘Baby Driver’ is consistent and surprising, leaving you shaking your head at the audacity of it all. The car chases are as balletic and giddying as a Gene Kelly dance number, and like the best musicals, serve the narrative action and character arcs rather than existing seperate from them.
Every department on this film is firing on all cylinders. Bill Pope’s cinematography is both a master stroke of careful composition and absolutely nuts, as kinetic in a conversation as in a car chase. Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss’ editing is exceptional, establishing a relentless rhythm of crescendos and diminuendos that’s almost symphonic. Marcus Rowland’s production design turns the city of Atlanta into a timeless piece of pop art, populated by the exceptional costume design from Courtney Hoffman that crafts iconic silhouettes of each and every character. It is so rare to find a film as beautifully balanced as this one, especially an action film, and Wright pulls it all together with more singularity of vision than ever before. Of course his comedy and bravado are as on point as ever, but he keeps this all in careful check to build a tension so delicious and palpable that when it all explodes in the final act, its impact is electrifying.
The clarity of vision, imagination and execution are a wonder to behold, culminating in a rip-roaring action extravaganza that’s equal parts thrilling, hilarious, nerve-wracking and ecstatic.
‘Baby Driver’ is further elevated by its exceptional ensemble, particularly the star-making performance from Ansel Elgort. From the moment he appears on screen, you can’t take your eyes off him, Elgort concocting a magical mixture of coolness, goofiness, optimism, hope and boiling rage. The film simply would not work without him, and he turns Baby into one of those great characters which sticks with you long after the film ends. Lily James is perfect as Debora, the only character who matches him for optimism and vivacity, and their chemistry is palpably electric and incredibly sexy. The supporting cast are uniformly excellent and constantly surprising - Kevin Spacey hasn’t been this much fun in years, Jamie Foxx finds ways to craft his unusual bombastic energy into a striking villain and C.J. Jones (who is actually deaf) gives the film enormous heart, his scenes with Elgort a constant delight. Rounding out the cast is Eiza González and Jon Hamm as crime couple Darling and Buddy, she brimming with vicious charm and he with goofy humanity that takes an unexpected direction.
Amidst this lacklustre blockbuster season, ‘Baby Driver’ bursts in as a gift from the cinematic gods, a virtuosic symphony which grabs you from the first frame and never stops for breath, all set to the most addictive soundtrack in years. It had me holding on for dear life, grinning from ear to ear from its joy and audacity. Even though its aesthetics are exceptional, its emotional impact constantly exceeds them. The characters are so rich, the narrative so tight and action beats so incredible that every ballsy shot, edit or musical choice works in service to amplify them, resulting in a feat of action filmmaking almost as jaw-dropping as ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. Edgar Wright has delivered a remarkable piece of pure cinema, an instant classic, and one of the best films of the year. I’ll be falling more and more in love with it every time I see it.