Reel Talk

Baby Driver and the Great American Film

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Edgar Wright appears to have gotten wishes from a genie or sold his soul, because every single film he’s created has been terrific. He’s up there with the Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino as one my most consistently favorite directors. He really hasn’t had a single failure yet, and his movies have become some of my absolute favorites of all time. So of course when I heard that his new film, the one he’s been working on for decades and finally decided to try after leaving Ant-Man, was being described as a highly choreographed musical/heist, you know I was going to be excited. Every single thing I heard about this film got me excited, from the casting, to the premise, to the marketing, all the way down to the initial reaction it was getting when it premiered at South By Southwest this year. And, while the whole musical aspect wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, this movie was an absolute delight. From start to finish this was one of the most thoroughly enjoyable films I’ve seen in quite a while, and is a strong contender for my favorite film that Edgar Wright has ever created. Which is very high praise indeed.

The film revolves around a young man who goes by the name Baby. He’s an incredibly skilled driver, who has been more or less blackmailed into joining a gang of robbers as their getaway driver. Baby has a severe case of tinnitus, brought about by the car accident that killed his parents, so he’s almost always listening to music on his iPod, which allows him to tune everything out and focus on the driving, while also setting up a lot of great choreography along with the beat of the music that’s playing. We see that Baby is working for a mysterious criminal mastermind who goes by Doc, who never uses the exact same crew for any heist, mixing and matching from a stable of criminals. Except Baby. He always uses Baby as the get-away driver, making him become a good luck charm. We see a couple of heists, introducing us to some character who will eventually become important, and some who won’t. Baby helps rob a bank with a married couple who go by Buddy and Darling, and robs an armored truck with the help of an unhinged and violent man who calls himself Bats. And while all of this is going on Baby is also doing his best to live a normal life, spending time with his deaf foster father Joseph, and meeting a young waitress named Deborah who he falls for. Baby and Deborah quickly fall in love, and the two begin spending a lot of time together, planning the day that they’ll be able to flee from their lives and head West, just driving and listening to music. Which should be happening soon, because after the armored car Baby was  able to officially pay off his debt to Doc, which he assumes will finally let him be free.

Unfortunately this isn’t the case, and Doc demands that Baby still drive for him, threatening Deborah if he refuses. So Baby has no choice but to drive for him once more, to rob a post office of their money order slips, which Doc can get a massive amount of money from. He pulls together a crew of Buddy, Darling, and Bats, and has the four head out to get weapons for the robbery. Which is where everything falls apart. Baby was already highly disillusioned with his life, especially the violence that it was causing. So when they go to a weapons deal and it turns South, causing Bats to seemingly kill all of the dealers, things start to spiral out of control. They return back to Doc’s hideout, and prepare for the heist when Baby gets cold feet and plans to bail and run off with Deborah. Until he’s caught by Buddy and Bats, who find out something weird about Baby. He’s almost always recording conversations, which he turns into music. Buddy and Bats find this ridiculous, and assume he’s a cop, going to Joseph’s apartment to rough him up and try to find evidence that Baby is crooked. This is the final straw for Baby, who agrees to go through with the heist, but promises it’s his last. So while waiting for Buddy, Darling, and Bats to return from the robbery and his getaway to begin, Baby plans some vengeance. The criminals get in the car, and Baby immediately causes an accident that kills Bats, fleeing from the police, Buddy, and Darling. In the ensuing chaos Darling is killed, causing Buddy to fly into a rage. He follows Baby through the city as he picks up Deborah and gets some help from Doc, who is busy fighting off the arms dealers that Bats wasn’t fully able to kill. Buddy and Baby have a confrontation in a parking garage that ends up Baby free and clear of his criminal life, until he’s promptly arrested and sentenced to prison. But it’s okay, because Deborah will always be waiting for him, ready to hit the road when he’s free.

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I adored this movie from the very first moment until the credits rolled. It’s a tremendous experience, that completely exceeded my expectations. I was a little disappointed that the whole “musical” aspect that I had heard hyped wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, that’s my own issues with being misinformed, and nothing to hold against the film. Because as it stands, this movie is damn near perfect. Everyone is phenomenal in the movie, across the board, putting in terrific performances. I’m not familiar with Ansel Elgort at all, but he has a very likeable and fun presence in the film, making it easy to come to like Baby throughout the film. Likewise, Lily James is great as Deborah, the perfect girl for Baby, who manages to come off as a real character and now just a reward like a similar character would if handled by a lesser director. And the various criminals in the film are all top-notch. Kevin Spacey sure has been hit or miss the last couple of years, but he’s a blast in this movie, making some interesting choices with Doc that leaves what could have been a bland villain quite memorable. Similar to Lily James, I was unfamiliar with Eiza Gonzalez and while there’s not a whole lot to Darling, she was quite fun. But the two performances that delighted me the most were easily Jon Hamm as Buddy and Jamie Foxx as Bats. Jamie Foxx gets to be as crazy and eccentric as possible, making Bats an absurd cartoon character that’s a whole lot of fun to watch. Meanwhile, Jon Hamm is putting in an amazing performance, switching from a sort of older brother role with Baby to a genuinely terrifying monster by the end of the film. And those performances are bolstered by a tremendous soundtrack, beautiful camera-work, some delightful action choreography, and some of the best car chases I’ve seen in decades.

When I first got out of the film, like I do with most movies I see nowadays, I started to think about what I would focus on for this article. The most obvious would be to discuss Wright’s use of music in the film, and the importance of the diegetic soundtrack to the film. But as I began thinking about the film something else popped up that I couldn’t get out of my head. Edgar Wright just made the most American movie I’ve ever seen.  American culture is obviously the country’s greatest export, and the thing that most gets shoved down the rest of the world’s throat. So it makes sense that certain aspects of American culture that are basically fetishized at this point, would become widespread. And this film contains most of them. We have a group of outlaws sticking it to the man by robbing banks, using guns, driving fast cars, and eating at diners. That’s the most American plot description I’ve ever heard. Edgar Wright is clearly a director who is obsessed with film. He’s spent his whole life consuming stories, and has now become a synthesis machine that can take disparate references and inspirations and create new stories that become perfect encapsulations of the genre that they’re working in. And he’s accomplished this feat yet again, by making a damn near perfect heist movie, by leaning into every American trope there is and creating something magical with them. This is going to be a tough act to follow, but I can’t wait to see what he synthesizes next.

 

Baby Driver was written and directed by Edgar Wright and released by TriStar Pictures, 2017.

 

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