Cinematic Century

2017 – Baby Driver

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We’re down to our last two entries of Cinematic Century folks, which means we’re talking about a bunch of movies that really feels like I just saw them the other day. This site was in full force in 2017, I ended up seeing dozens of movies that were released that year, and I even ended up making a pretty through list of favorite films of the year. And, just like last week, I did have the question of whether I should change things up. Opinions change and grow, and movies that I loved at the time may have faded, and ones that I disliked could have grown on me. But, surprisingly, I found that a lot of my opinions of films from 2017 have remained pretty solid. There are some occasional moments of confusion looking at my favorite films of 2017, like the fact that Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri was anywhere on that list, but by and large 2017 was a really solid year. There was even some stuff that at the time I wrote that list I hadn’t seen yet, like the absolutely insane and beautiful Phantom Thread, which definitely would have ended up on the list, if it had reached by flyover state before late January. But, there were still a lot of movies that I still love quite a bit, and that have only grown in esteem upon rewatches. I mean, it’s a little in the zeitgeist at the moment, but it’s still staggering to me how much I love the Last Jedi, how much better it gets upon each rewatch, and how baffling the vitriol on the internet for it is. I’m always baffled by the occasional sight of shade being thrown at Guardian of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, which has almost become my favorite Marvel film of them all. Or Blade Runner 2049, a movie that I sometimes see dismissed as style over substance, but which really hit me hard at the time. There’s also some stuff like the Disaster Artist or the Shape of Water that I was obsessed with at the time, but have literally not revisited or really thought much about since, which does kind of make me question what sort of impact they really had on me. But, when it came time to reassess 2017, and pick a favorite film of the year, I found myself tasked with re-litigating my top two films of the year. Because, even at the time, Jordan Peele’s monumental Get Out and Edgar Wright’s charming Baby Driver were the two movies that I found myself loving the most from 2017. And, that hasn’t really changed. I adore both movies, and it really was a difficult decision to narrow down between the two. And, after quite a bit of anxiety and soul-searching, I ended up going with my original choice, and selecting Baby Driver as my favorite film of 2017. I think that Get Out has become my pick for best film of 2017, but the whole point of this project was for me to pick my personal favorite films of each year, and while Get Out is an absolute triumph of film-making, and destined to become one of the most influential films of the century, Baby Driver is just a movie completely on my wave-length. I’ve gotta go with my heart, not my brain.

Baby Driver was an idea that director Edgar Wright has been toying with for literal decades. When he was still a struggling young filmmaker he became obsessed with the idea of a high-speed car chase set to music, becoming something of an action-movie musical. And, after quite a bit of thought, he ended up taking most of the ideas he had for the film, and a made a music video for a band called Mint Royale. Which, didn’t end up fulfilling that creative urge of his. But, it did prove that the concept could work, so Wright kept the film in the back of his mind, and while he continued to establish himself as one of the more popular filmmakers of this generation he kept growing the idea. And, after finally establishing himself well enough, and the implosion of his relationship with Marvel and the Ant Man movie, he decided it was time to bring his action musical to life. Wright then began working extremely closely with editor Paul Machliss, making sure that the whole idea would even be viable, and matching up various story-boarded action sequences with music. And, when that started to come together, the rest of the film followed. They moved the setting of the film from Los Angeles to Atlanta due to production costs, but Wright ended up diving deep into the city of Atlanta, trying to bring the soul of the city into the film, highlighting several landmarks while also utilizing the cities ubiquity as a go-to major city in film. And, because of Wright’s insistence that they use as many practical effects as possible, they ended up using quite a bit of massive vehicular stunts, most of which were painstakingly rehearsed at various Speedways in order to pull off the insane feats. And, it all came together to create something pretty rare here on Cinematic Century. A genuine hit! The film was a critical and commercial success, and is often considered fondly as one of the most popular films of the year. And, folks? I love this movie so much.

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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, who just so happen to be corrupt cops, 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 with Buddy dead and 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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Baby Driver is one of those movies that I kind of almost get frustrated with, because it’s such a fun and clever idea, and Wright pulls it all off seemingly effortlessly. It’s just an incredibly fun and enjoyable movie, full of amazing performances, great music, and some of the most insane car stunts this side of Fury Road. There are some elements that haven’t aged particularly well already, primarily the inclusion of Kevin Spacey who was just months away from having his many crimes exposed, and whose presence places a shade of discomfort over ever scene that he’s in. And, while the entire movie does utilize the whole synched up element, the first two sequences really are the strongest in that regards, and I do wonder what a true hybrid of a musical and an action movie would be like. But, none of that is enough to sway my love for this movie. It’s just so joyful and wild, completely earnest in everything it’s trying to accomplish, while also being a hell of a good time. Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx are putting in two truly amazing performances, especially seeing Hamm so completely unhinged and divorced from his usual Don Draper identity. And the movie really introduced me to Lily James, who helps create a strong emotional backbone to the entire thing. Ansel Elgort is fine I suppose, and I think Baby’s general repressed nature works for the actor, but there are times where a more charismatic actor maybe could make the film work a tad better. But, it’s a movie whose strengths far outweigh its weaknesses, and a movie that just instantly puts me in a good mood as I watch a bunch of outlaws racing around, falling in love and listening to great music.

Because, at the end of the day, that’s what this whole movie seems to be about. It’s Edgar Wright processing a life-time of American dominated culture into one perfect distillation of the mythic America. Edgar Wright is clearly a lover of pop culture, and America is certainly one of the dominate sources of pop culture around the world, often presenting itself in the most outlandish terms possible. And Baby Driver truly feels like a movie made by someone who is not American, trying to reckon with everything great and strange about America, all at once. It’s a fun crime story, essentially a neo-noir, that’s also a love-story full of great pop music. We have guns, outlaws, and murder, and we also have nice scenes of people falling in love sharing their music together. We have action-packed car-chases and intricately designed poppy sequences that feel out of a Technicolor musical. And, it all works together perfectly. Wright is able to blend an idealized version of American culture and myth with some horrible realities to make a strange hodgepodge of a reality, something that feels incredibly realistic and currently while also feeling like a fable. We have a failed Wall Street banker resorting to directly stealing people’s money, corrupt cops selling guns to kill their fellow officers, criminals who are looking at all times for even-tempered professionalism, and people looking for thrills and excitement at the expense of their own lives. It’s America, y’all. It’s a timeless feeling movie, one that’s completely saturated in a brilliant and beautiful aesthetic, and which is all coming together to make some sort of final statement by a very British auteur. And that statement ends up appearing to be that America is a fun source of insanity and heartbreak. A place of optimism and fun, in equal parts to anxiety and nightmares. Which, kind of hits the nail on the head.

 

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

 

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