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After carving out a distinct visual style on the TV series Spaced, director Edgar Wright carried it over to three idiosyncratic and successful movies. A decades' long gestation period has led to BABY DRIVER. Camus clunks and clicks.
 
  "The original script was probably a bit darker and colder, and through the use of these anecdotes stuff got a bit funnier. I do like the way the humour works - if there's a funny scene, something bad is about to happen. Some of the performers too – Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey – they're all separately so funny and dry, but also threatening."
  Director Edgar Wright, Den of Geek interview*

 

 

Drivers will no doubt be familiar with the following experience. You're cruising down an urban street and what's on the radio/iPod suddenly 'syncs' with the life outside your vehicular bubble. The supermarket couple loading the car closes the boot on the crunch of a drum, two teenagers, ears budded up, suddenly start walking in perfect rhythm to the tempo of the music. As a coup de subjective théâtre, the traffic lights blink from red to amber to green to the beat as the final bar finishes. There is something inherently satisfying about life set to music and it's also why film and music are still in their honeymoon period of their long running affair. They will never get married or be friends. They will always be stave-crossed lovers. Well, writer/director Edgar Wright has taken that ear-pleasing, eye-opening 30 mph limit experience and made an entire movie based on that single conceit. And it's a dizzying joy from the key in the ignition, to the whump of the closing garage door. Baby Driver is that rare beast these days – an original movie not based on a known property and with the help of a terrific cast and film craft extraordinaire, it's could be Wright's PhD to his degree level Cornetto Trilogy. Now I loved Shaun, Fuzz and World's End in varying degrees but here you get a sense of a maturing talent, a film director growing in stature before your very eyes. As odd as it sounds but his fourth is the least 'Edgar Wrighty' movie of them all. The little visual and aural sparkles, based on their framing and edit-speed, which were scattered all over the trilogy are not foregrounded as much. In their place is a sense of timing within the frame that is eminently enjoyable if you know how to hear and what to look for.

Baby Driver

You know that extraordinary Michel Gondry CG-stitched music video for The Chemical Brothers' Star Guitar? You should YouTube it if you don't. At first glance it's what you see out of a travelling train window. Once you're cued in what to look for, it turns into a sublime piece of modern art. If it were possible to take the entire journey and lay it out end to end, what you would see is a 3D graphical representation of the music itself, drum beats as architectural structures, spaces as the gaps between parallel opposite running trains, the closer blurred poles and walls, the musical punctuation. Edgar Wright has taken this simple but powerful idea and ramped it up several notches. The firing pace of the gun-fights actually follows the accompanying cue's rhythm and if you know the cue (I scored about 65% recognition) it's a delicious pleasure adding a layer of enjoyment on to what is standard action fare, all done very well, but the musical element makes it fly. In terms of the diegetic nature of the music (it's almost always on the lead character's iPod or car radio) there's only one small fantasy scene in which some lyrics are written on trees as the hero passes by. People he encounters move and swirl according to the music but this isn't La La Land, this is Walter Hill's The Driver crossed with someone's iPod playlist with a little verve, wit and magic lovingly woven in to the overall.

So, Baby is a young man with a phenomenal talent for encouraging rhododendrons to flower. No, he isn't. OK, OK, so he makes cars do extraordinary things. Played by Ansel Elgort of Fault in our Stars and Divergent fame, I never got a real handle on him from the trailer – he reminded me of a pre-adolescent Nathan Fillion wearing Han Solo's wardrobe - but his is a very subtle performance and worthy of no small praise. The entire film almost emanates from his character's taste in music. His driving skill is required for the nefarious criminal capers planned by a local kingpin, Doc played with some relish by Kevin Spacey. Baby is the getaway driver and after seeing the first getaway, all hats are tipped in his direction. But Baby has a problem, namely tinnitus, that noise in your head with nothing but internal body sounds causing it. It started after a car accident that orphaned him. He now lives with his foster father, Joseph, a rather lovely and endearing performance from CJ Jones. Kudos to the director, that he cast a signing deaf actor for his signing deaf character. To drown the internal noises out, Baby is almost surgically attached to his iPod's ear buds. He lives his life according to his playlists (he has different iPods for different days) and lives in something of a fantasy world. But this is a world most of us know, right? Who hasn't sung along to a favoured track or mimicked the rhythm and cadence of the cue with your own body movements? Some of my most powerful memories are music related, probably Earth, Wind and Fire and their punchy horns and me (oh, Lord, save me from this über-cliché) dancing like nobody's watching… Sigh. Music is powerful and every time a cue dropped in, one that I recognised, (so lovely to hear the ridiculous but wonderful 70s' Hocus Pocus by the Dutch band Focus during a chase scene on foot) I was grinning like a village idiot. Yodel away, pom pom! All hail YouTube. Of course, I am listening to the yodels right now.

But Baby is not a getaway driver by choice having unknowingly boosted Doc's car and is now paying back his crime against the crime lord. He works with assorted criminal dudes and slowly he edges into a more violent world while falling head over heels for a local waitress, Debora played by the Harry Potter-double parent moniker, Lily James. Bats, Jamie Foxx, is the violent and unpredictable one, the unknowing, uncaring architect of Baby's volte-face against a life of crime. Jon Hamm plays Buddy playing lovey-dovey with Darling, his girl du jour played by Eiza González. Initially, none of the hardened crims has any truck with this young wizard of the wheels but they cannot but admire his skill. It's only when the robberies start to involve unnecessary homicides does Baby inwardly rebel. He's now in deeper than he wanted to be and at the presumed liberating end of his pay back to Doc, he now realises he's attached to the darker world as long as Doc wants him as his lucky charm and he needs to find a way out. It's at this point in the movie when you get that niggling feeling that there will be blood…

Baby Driver

Without the no doubt emotionally reassuring presence of collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, Wright acquits himself admirably in the screenplay department and slam-dunks the direction with aplomb. A lot of the dialogue is a little on the nose but what subtext lurks is very effective. The plot has a single, mighty advantage over most mainstream movies these days. You never know what's coming and I can't tell you how bracing that is. The performances are neatly split between Baby's internal world and everyone else. Baby lives in his own musical reality and more than once I was reminded of Hudson Hawk with Willis stealing to the song Side by Side (just to get the timing right). Timing is everything in Baby Driver. The film is superbly edited by Jonathon Amos and Paul Machliss – I am always quick to praise the cutting room people – but was surprised and then understood when Wright asserts in an interview that it's not the editing per se but the direction and performance within the frame that made the music sequences work so well. I had to relent and accept that. Director Wright shot to playback (just like crews do shooting musicals) to get the timings right and although it still had to be assembled with great skill, I concede his point entirely.

I consider myself fairly well in the know culturally speaking. I'm a big reader, music lover and a news junkie but I do have my many significant blind spots and untold lapses in my knowledge. On the way to see Baby Driver, I suggested to my son that this was a terrible title for a movie and that it sounded like a Disney made-for-TV special. He agreed and we swore we'd see the film and then come up with a better title. Well, of course I bought a vinyl copy of Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel many years ago but that particular track (Baby Driver) passed me by. So, I retract my accusation of a bad title and for all those who 'got it', nice one. It's just that I didn't. One last thought. There are a few shots in the film filmed at a high frame rate (ultra slow motion) which gives you the opportunity to ramp up and ramp down the speed of the action. Because of this you can time the shot's significant frames to occur exactly when you need them to occur. This is of course manna from heaven to a filmmaker attempting to sync every action scene to the beats of a pre-chosen piece of music. But there is a shot of Jon Hamm reloading his automatic weapon in slow motion and he misses the slot with the magazine before ramming it home. I was delighted that my son also caught this detail, again, those 'fails' that make us believe we are watching the work of human beings and not the perfection of computerised unambiguity.

Baby Driver is a genuine original and a hoot to boot – car horn to where you keep the stiffs. At times it feels Tarantinoesque without the crafted monologues but that's no criticism. If the title won't get you into the cinema, the promise of a fun night out just might. And trust me, there's great fun to be had with the Wright stuff.

 


*http://www.denofgeek.com/uk/movies/edgar-wright/50347/edgar-wright-interview-baby-driver-jason-statham-directing

Baby Driver poster
Baby Driver

UK | USA 2017
113 mins
directed by
Edgar Wright
produced by
Tim Bevan
Eric Fellner
Nira Park
written by
Edgar Wright
cinematography
Bill Pope
editing
Jonathan Amos
Paul Machliss
music
Steven Price
production design
Marcus Rowland
starring
Ansel Elgort
Jon Bernthal
Jon Hamm
Eiza González
Micah Howard
Lily James
Kevin Spacey
Jamie Foxx
UK distributor
Columbia Pictures
release date
28 June 2017
review posted
30 June 2017

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