If anyone was going to come up with a musical heist movie, it would be director Edgar Wright. After all, he’s the same guy who brought us the delightful 2004 zombie-comedy, SHAUN OF THE DEAD, which he wrote (along with Simon Pegg, STAR TREK BEYOND; MAN UP) and directed. This time around, the film is BABY DRIVER, a fantasy about a young man who drives getaway cars to the thumping beat of such Power Hour classics as Golden Earring’s Radar Love, The Damned’s Neat Neat Neat and Focus’ Hocus Pocus, to name just a few.
Aptly-named Baby (Ansel Elgort, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS) is a baby-faced young man who just happens to be the best wheelman in Atlanta. Working for Doc (Kevin Spacey, ELVIS & NIXON), the mastermind behind a series of armed robberies in the area, Baby regularly ferries Doc’s rotating crew of gangsters to and from their heists. It’s been a lucrative relationship for Doc but less so for Baby, who, we learn, has been working for Doc to paying off a debt he incurred for stealing one of Doc’s cars years before. One more job, though, and Baby’s debt will be paid up. Baby is more than just a driver, however. He’s perhaps a savant when he’s behind the wheel. Ever since he was involved in a car accident as a child, he’s been suffering from tinnitus. To try to drown out the ringing in his ears, he listens to pounding music on various iPods that he owns. As a result, he now drives and moves to the beat of whatever he’s listening to. He doesn’t have to listen in on Doc’s plans. He instinctively knows them and he lets the music guide him and the others to safety.
Everything changes when two new people enter his life – Debora (Lily James, TV’s DOWNTON ABBEY), a new waitress at the diner where he likes to hangout when he’s between jobs, and Bats (Jamie Foxx, RAY), one of Doc’s robbers. While Baby and Debora would like to run away from it all and “head west” to a new life together, Bats doesn’t trust Baby and sees Debora as a threat to keeping Baby in the game. That sets the Baby and Bats on a collision course that puts everyone’s futures in jeopardy.
Let’s start with the easy first and this is a comment that someone mentioned to me after I saw the film: Atlanta is not that big a city so you’d think the law enforcement agencies would have caught up with Doc at some point. It’s a fantasy! Don’t look for realism here. With that out of the way, let’s now talk about the good and there’s a lot to talk about. This is one meticulously made film! Every scene is choreographed and edited down to the beat. During the opening titles we watch Baby walk down the street to get the group some take-out coffees. Not only are his moves in sync with the music he’s listening to (and we’re hearing), just when we notice the graffiti on a telephone poll or see something in shop window, we hear the words at the exact same time. It’s a work of beauty! On the bad side, the second act drags a bit, especially after such a turbocharged first act. Fortunately, the pedal hits the metal again in the third act so Wright can be forgiven here.
By and large, the performances are excellent, with perhaps James being the weakest of the bunch. I liked Elgort in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and he shows us here that he can be a physical actor too. Spacey does his usual calm but razor-edged performance that we’ve seen him do so many times before but who cares? It’s great! Foxx is just as good playing this badass guy that you know is going to upset the applecart at some point. Jon Hamm (TV’s MAD MEN) is also good as Buddy, one of Doc’s guys. I’m glad to see him breaking away from his Don Draper persona. Also good is Mexican actress and singer Eiza González, who plays Darling, Buddy’s partner-in-love-and-crime. I’m not familiar with her work but she held her own against the more experienced actors. She reminds me of a young Sofia Vergara.
BABY DRIVER is the most fun you will have had at the cinema in a long time. Go see it! Be sure to keep your eyes out for someone who was big in the music (and film) industry in the ’70s. My only clue is that he’s evergreen!
Watch the review recorded in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Facebook Live, Thursday morning (September 14) at 8:30 am HK time!
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