Baby Driver – 2017
Written and Directed by Edgar Wright
Starring Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx
Every once in a while you see a film and it opens up a spot in your psyche. This spot is forever inhabited with images from the film and becomes part of what makes you whole. Baby Driver, while not a perfect film, is now part of the tapestry of my movie soul.
The premise and many aspects of the film are deceptively simple. Imagine a young guy who needs the right song to drive a car fast and without regard to the danger he and others are in. And he does it better than everyone else. And its his job. It’s every teenager’s dream.
The getaway driver, nicknamed Baby (Elgort) has a tragic past. His mother and father died in the front seat while arguing. He was in the back seat, listening to his iPod. Now he has tinnitus and in order to drown out the ringing, he plays music in his ears at all times. He can read lips, and he can sign. He takes care of his elderly foster-father, Joseph (Jones), who is deaf and in a wheel chair. He puts his tiny stacks of 100’s that he earns from each heist away for another day. He’s doing alright.
His boss, Doc, teams his driver with different robbers at all times. He mixes and matches to keep them from getting too close, or even used to one another. He always uses the same driver, though. Baby is his good luck charm.
Then Baby meets Debora (James), a young waitress at the local diner that he’s eaten at for many, many years. When Debora responds to Baby’s affections, things just couldn’t be better. That’s the way the first act has to end, for a tragedy to be complete.
The mix of crooks Baby needs to associate with gives him an interesting mix of issues. Some manageable, some not. Some obvious, others not so much.
The details within every frame of the story are to an extent where it should be impossible not to know what is coming, but the skill Wright has as a writer keeps us in suspense almost to the end. The scene building is unlike anything I have experienced since seeing Goodfellas for the first time.
The casting is top of the line. Finally someone figured out how to use Jon Hamm in a cinematic setting. His work in this film is extraordinary in its subtle hints and range. I don’t think he should ever work with anyone else, if he wants to have a movie career.
Similarly, this is the best work Jamie Foxx has ever done. Including the Oscar nominated stuff. The skill he exhibits in dominating each scene he is in is exquisitely horrific. One spends each moment dreading what decision he might make next and how it will affect the lives of people on and off-screen. Not sure if this will interrupt his scheduled work for any more sequels to average films, but one can hope.
No one plays heartless boss like Spacey, and this role may be a walk in the park for him, but it doesn’t mean that his performance doesn’t work perfectly. After all, Goodfellas wasn’t exactly a stretch for DeNiro, but where would that film have been without him.
A key role in the film is that of Jones’ father figure, Joseph. There is a kindness in his eyes that says more than 1000 words could. And when you see the chemistry between he and Elgort, one can’t help but feel a love for both of them. I have not seen Jones enough in film, but lets hope this ushers in a wave of appearances.
Lily James has all of the makings of a star and this performance hits every note that is needed for the young, life affirming love interest. She has the face, form, heart and accent of which dreams are made. One look at her smile and we perfectly understand Baby’s motivations.
For Ansel Elgort, this is the kind of performance of which careers are made. His command of every scene, even when he’s not the dominant force, is astounding. We always know where he is and how he feels. We don’t necessarily know what his plans. His presence has not been felt this profoundly on celluloid to this point. He is so subtle and earnest, one can’t help but want to know Baby more.
Edgar Wright is as frustrating as he is talented. Shaun of the Dead is one of the best films I have ever seen, and despite all the good will in the world, the other 2/3 of the Cornetto trilogy just didn’t live up to the standard he set. Scott Pilgrim is remarkable, if a little flawed. Ant-Man is fantastic, but where he ends and his replacement Peyton Reed begins is a question.
The work he does here shows his skill is increasing and it feels like its time for him to take on more substantial work. So far, it looks like he is his best provider.
What is amazing is in a film with 2 good and 1 great car chase scene, the best choreographed scene occurs on foot. It is here that the direction and remarkable soundtrack are at their peak. It’s all magic.
The film only lets down in the last few scenes with the antagonists. One shot of Halloween masks early in the film provides for a laugh, but later on the irony is thick when the bad guy just won’t die. It’s silly enough to take you out of the moment. But it certainly isn’t enough to take away from the thrill of the other 90% of the movie.
See this if you want to add to your list of great cinematic memories.
(****1/2 out of *****)