There are plenty of directors out there who create good, or even great, films, but there are only a handful that not only consistently deliver with their films, but garner attention whenever they announce their next project. Edgar Wright has certainly earned his spot as one of those directors. With the so-called Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End), as well as his adaptation of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Wright has jumped across genres to deliver new spins on familiar stories. The passion he’s brought to his films has made the gap between 2013’s The World’s End and his newest film, Baby Driver, feel all the longer – a gap that’s due in part to Wright’s last-minute decision to exit Ant-Man, which will leave fans of Wright’s wondering for years what his version of the film would’ve looked like. No matter; with Baby Driver, Wright shows that he’s still more than capable of delivering.
Baby (Ansel Elgort) is an extraordinarily gifted driver who works for criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey) as a getaway driver in order to pay off a long-held debt. Baby’s presence is routinely questioned by Doc’s associates, who are put off by Baby’s constant listening to music, a choice Baby makes to drown out the tinnitus in his ears that came from the same car accident from childhood that killed his parents. Once Baby thinks he’s finally paid off his debt, freeing him to run away with waitress Debora (Lily James), Doc pulls him in for another heist that puts him alongside Doc’s most unstable crooks – Bats (Jamie Foxx), Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza González). As Baby tries to escape from this path, he’ll have to do everything in his power to get away.
Baby Driver‘s use of music cannot be overemphasized. The constant use of music throughout the film isn’t just a tool for Baby, or a gimmick for the film. It creates a unique rhythm that helps underscore shifting moods during the film. Music is a quintessential part of Baby, and he uses it to not only block the tinnitus, but to block himself off mentally from the criminals he drives. More than that, though, his knowledge of his music is so detailed, he uses it to time his drives, making the car chases in this film all the more thrilling. Especially considering the car stunts here are achieved through practical effects, it’s amazing to see just how beautifully Wright pulls off the timing of everything in this film.
The film’s choice of location also plays a big part in creating something unique. Baby Driver is part of a slew of films that have used downtown Atlanta as a setting in recent years, thanks to the influx of productions that have arrived in the state thanks to Georgia’s tax incentives. Unlike most of those films, even the ones that have actually used Atlanta to represent itself instead of another random city, Baby Driver feels like it’s a part of this city. There’s a uniqueness to Atlanta’s structure that sets it apart from any other big city where this film could take place, and while driving might normally be a nightmare in the city (and that’s before a major interstate collapses), the roads make for some thrilling twists and turns.
The film also makes terrific use of its cast. At the center of the film is Elgort, who charmed audiences a few years ago with The Fault in Our Stars. Here, he dominates the film, easily selling the goodness of Baby and making him believable. There’s a warmth to his performance which shines most notably in his interactions with James as Debora and CJ Jones as his deaf foster father Joseph. That sense of innocence, even though he’s taking part in some horrible crimes, helps set him apart from the more conniving criminals in the film. Spacey, Hamm and Foxx, among the others, are clearly having a blast playing these dangerous criminals, and each one makes it known just how dangerous they are without having to say it.
Like Wright’s other films, Baby Driver is something that demands repeat viewings. It’s an exhilarating work of art, and it fits comfortably alongside Wright’s previous outings. Trust me: you’ll want to see this one in a theater.