Directed by Edgar Wright
So, when you were a kid, if you were like me, you’d fall in love with a song that no one else had heard of. You’d imagine, because of its deep meaning to you, how you’d use it in the film of your life…what images, dialogue and action you might use…how would it match the most important moments of your life. And not just because it made sense for the scene, but because you wanted to teach everyone else about these great unknown and “important” songs. To, in essence, make music videos using the songs of your life. Now, imagine being a successful director and being given a huge budget to do pretty much just that.
But, you might think, “isn’t there a Marvel Studios franchise that does just that?” Well, sort of. “Guardians of the Galaxy”, while relying heavily on its seventies pop-laden soundtrack, merely wants you to wax nostalgic about them, or sing along with them…or even, at times, to poke fun at them. “Baby Driver” is most definitely not that. The songs in this film, along with the images, and the breathtaking action, quite literally tell the story of each scene. In fact, I posit that the film would work just as well if there were no dialogue. But, luckily, the dialogue in “Baby” is smart, focused and compelling.
So, now you’re wondering, “isn’t it just a bunch of car chases set to music? How is that different from the Fast and Furious films?”
Well, let’s break it down. Unlike the “Furious” films, this is an action flick laden with car chases and shootouts that doesn’t try and show you how cool the newest cinematic technologies are. “Baby Driver” is just good, old-fashioned action. No slow motion. No grabbing guns out of midair and shooting magic curving bullets. Just great storytelling and fight choreography. And stuff blowing up in a manner that resembles….stuff blowing up…not as a backdrop to match some clever bullshit line spoken by the Rock. In fact, one of its greatest traits is Wright’s decision to avoid cartoonish gore. No heads explode on impact, nor do they get cut off. When someone is shot in this film, they get shot…which is ultimately much more effective. It makes us ponder the repercussions of such an act instead of being excused from that emotional investment by the absurdity of many portrayals of it…like “John Wick”, “Raid”, etc…not that I don’t love those films, but they are meant to distance you from the act, not bring you in to it.
And, in addition to much better music, more believable situations and action and dialogue that avoids cliche with as much thought as “F and F” dialogue revels in it, “Baby Driver” has some pretty spectacular performances from a pretty spectacular cast. Ansel Elgort, while often utterly outclassed by the veteran actors he’s surrounded with, nonetheless creates the needed pathos of his protagonist character very well. His backstory is clearly etched in his every move, and, frankly, that’s all that’s needed for us to go on this ride with him. And Lily James, who I have been in love with since her first appearance on “Downton Abbey”, is the perfect love interest. While she seems a little too together for her circumstances, like Patricia Arquette and Christian Slater in “True Romance”, you believe in their lightning-fast courtship – which is essential for the third act of the film.
But the film belongs to the side characters. Specifically Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, and especially, Jon Hamm. It’s nice to see Foxx play a role with restraint – even if his character has none. He smoulders with an anger that seems to come from some place deep inside his psyche…as if a nerve is always exposed. He doesn’t act like a crazy killer…or typical Hollywood psychopathic charicature…his crazy is frighteningly real. It’s also great to see Spacey do what he does best on camera, maintain control while all around him is anxiety, chaos and danger. Finally, Jon Hamm is fantastic. Just as restrained as Foxx, he has you on his side in seconds and then terrified of him moments later. It’s a brilliant juggling act, made even better by Edgar Wright’s conviction to his story. Since there are no extraneous bits and pieces, the actors have all the room in the world to fully commit.
It’s not a perfect film. It’s about ten to fifteen minutes too long due to the second act taking about an hour to get to. It’s an exciting hour to be sure, but I found myself wishing they would get on with the story a little sooner. And Jon Bernthal’s performance is poorly written, and, as a result, poorly played (and I love Bernthal), which is a problem, since his scene is the opening conflict and acts pretty much as all the exposition we’re going to get in the film. It’s also a scene repeated almost note for note by Foxx thirty minutes later. It led me to think “uh oh”, early on…but that concern is/was fleeting.
Aaaaand that’s about it for the negatives.
Listen, any action film that choreographs its penultimate battle to the only hit of one of my favorite, if largely forgotten, seventies Dutch rock bands, utilizes Dave Brubeck to perfection, and re-introduces my go-to Carla Thomas tune to the world, is an action film I’m going to really enjoy. “Baby Driver” is that film. It’s pretty terrific.
Here’s the trailer, but it gives away too much for my tastes…
Written on 7/12/2017