'Baby Driver' - Review - Chris at the Pictures

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

'Baby Driver' - Review

★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

Edgar Wright’s new film was the first time I took a notepad into the cinema, and if Baby Driver is any indication of experiences to come, I don’t think I’ll do so again. As Ansel Elgort's getaway driver murmured, spun and leapt his way across the screen, the pen and pad lay untouched in my lap and a smile grew unhindered on my face.

The young actor and his Han Solo jacket lead a minimal, high-impact cast including Kevin Spacey as Baby’s, well, Kevin Spacey-ish boss, Doc, Jamie Foxx as Bats (a trigger-happy criminal with a penchant for speeches) and Lily James as waitress Debora, with whom Baby is hopelessly smitten. With a string of successful getaways under his belt, our slick and silent hero wants desperately to escape Doc’s clutches, but has to complete one last heist.

Sometimes a film doesn’t have to be perfect for it to work. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be good. But if one movement, one shot, one line of dialogue can trigger that glint of recognition, it’s worth the price of admission. The opening set piece of Baby Driver and its tap-dance editing is just that; a moment where everything else fades to mute as every part of your brain shouts “I do that!” Baby, keeping the engine warm as his accomplices complete a bank robbery, mimes and bops his way through Bellbottoms by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. He drums his fingers on the wheel and scoots from left to right in his seat, setting a precedent for the both the character and the film’s mode of address.

That need to walk to the beat, to cross the road before the chorus starts, to match the drop with the kicking of a discarded can is an urge I’ve carried with me since loading the maximum five (five!) albums on my first MP3 player, eleven years ago. Baby’s small irritation at having to rewind The Damned’s ‘Neat Neat Neat’ so the crescendo falls perfectly in line with the climax of the chase is the same twinge I get finding that sliver of a song that’ll accompany me on the two-minute walk from bus stop to front door, and no further. The scene’s construction seems the natural evolution of Wright’s signature style and is emblematic of why so many have been so rushed off their feet by Baby Driver.

There’s just something so inherently cinematic about the way Wright stages his shots, the way his editors smash cut after cut together with the efficiency and sheer ‘oomph’ of a pit-stop team. The same has been true of all his films (even The World’s End, the lesser of the Cornetto Trilogy, had it), and – though Baby Driver is considerably less overtly comedic than those that came before – the same quick-fire approach to laughter is also present. A joke is a joke, a self-contained moment or a visual gag instead of a meandering, self-congratulatory improv routine. And boy, is that refreshing.

I’ve been hit-or-miss with Elgort in the past (his charm in The Fault in Our Stars was buried by a visible discomfort in the Divergent series), but here his subdued, toddler-faced magic is worked effortlessly. Kevin Spacey is always good value for money, though one imagines the role of ‘hugely suspect suit’ isn’t too much of a stretch for someone currently playing the President of the United States. Watching Spacey, Foxx and a fabulously undercut-adorned Jon Hamm bounce off each other is never dull.

If there’s one person I feel bad for in this entire enterprise, it’s composer Steven Price. With a running time of 113 minutes and 102 of those covered by T. Rex, The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel and more, the film leaves little room for a traditional score, so the Gravity and Fury alumnus is left in the dust. Lord knows he can score an action sequence (of which there’s no shortage here), but the central, essential conceit of Baby’s chase music has me feeling sheepish for even mentioning it.

To a lesser extent, Lily James also draws a short straw as the beaming love interest. She’s a real rising star and delivers the beating heart of the film during Elgort’s many silences, it’s just a shame that she’s little more than a narrative ignition. Baby’s adoration of Debora is still a solid foundation for the plot, and one that cements my understanding of Baby Driver as an old-fashioned Hollywood dream given a smart new paint job; True Romance for the iPod generation, perhaps.  If you stop to think about it for more than five minutes it all comes tumbling down in a series of coincidences and impossibilities, but one feels that can’t be helped.

It’s not a classic by any means but it’s a feisty, fanciful caper made with undeniable affection for the characters and the craft. Imagine if all Hollywood passion projects made the jump from dream to screen with such vigour, such a lack of self-importance. Contrast this to the uppity and languorous The Hateful Eight, the long-gestating vision of Quentin Tarantino (who Wright often cites as a huge influence, and who receives a special thanks in the closing credits of Baby Driver). High on petrol fumes and the lovable kind of film geekery, Wright brings us that classical Hollywood romp we could all do with, every once in a while: uncluttered, unpretentious, unabashed fun.