SXSW Review: Baby Driver

Ever the master craftsman, Edgar Wright  makes a bold proclamation in his opening scene of  Baby Driver. Listen closely and you can almost hear him say: “I’ll give you 5 minutes. Then you’ll know if this movie is for you, or where the exits are located”.

In just 5 feature films Wright has established himself as one of the best directors working today. With both critical and commercial success under his belt, it’s always impressive to see what boundaries Wright is willing to push next .

On the conceptual level, Baby Driver sounds like a potential nightmare. A mish-mash of action and musical elements that recall some long lost union between Walter Hill, Hal Needham, Michael Kidd and Bob Fosse.  A true modern marvel, it’s the kind of film that will have Quentin Tarantino kicking himself for having not made it first.  Surprisingly, it could also be labeled as his most mainstream effort, at least as it pertains to the story. This isn’t big knock against the movie, as things have been pared back to allow spectacle and craft to speak for itself.

Baby (Anson Elgort) is a getaway driver who suffers from tinnitus, caused by an accident when he was a child. To counteract the ringing in his ears, he drowns out the world with music on his ever trusty iPod. He’s employed by Doc (Kevin Spacey), who, outside of Baby, traditionally never works with the same crew twice. Through Doc’s connections and planning, coupled with Baby’s skills behind the wheel, there’s no robbery they can’t pull off.

Rounding out the various thugs and lowlifes they work with, are a slew of familiar faces, each getting at least one opportunity to shine. Two stand out above the rest, for good reason, as they’re the characters who provide the film with much needed pathos and levity. Jamie Foxx erupts on screen as Bats, an outspoken and flamboyant career criminal who relishes in being “the wild card”. Foxx is clearly having a ball, constantly reminding the audience why he’s been a reliable actor for the past couple decades. He’s bested at times by Buddy (Jon Hamm), the movie’s embodiment of muscle and menace combined, who takes keeps a particularly protective eye on Baby. As events wear on, a new level is added to his character, potentially questioning why he lives this life, instantly becoming more dangerous in the process.

If the film was just focused on heist after heist, it would run the risk of growing stale quite quickly. Thankfully Wright has a complete vision that sets his film apart from the pack and in doing so attempts to create a new sub-genre. It’s the kind of bold move which is sure to be copied and emulated to a much much lesser degree, for the next several years.

Baby Driver is entirely fueled by music. A propulsive soundtrack backs each scene. Silence is reserved for only the most important instances of plot development. That’s because everything the audience hears is an extension of Baby’s very being. Earbuds forever dangling around his neck, whatever music he plays, the audience hears and gets a better understanding of this soft spoken, sunglasses wearing enigma.

When the volume gets turned up (and it does go up to 11), the music infects the entire world. As guitars wail and whine, cars speed and shift in time. As drums pop and cymbals crash, guns fire and reload to the beat. Even the simple act of getting the morning coffee sees the world transformed into a routine straight out of a Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly flick. In more intimate passages, the music binds the characters together, specially when it pertains to Baby’s adopted father Joseph (CJ Jones) or budding love interest Deborah (Lily James).

Baby Driver is a special treat. A rare cinematic experience brimming with the kind of originality and verve championed back in the 70’s. A passion project only attempted by the clinically insane, or a technical genius, Edgar Wright’s latest lacks a wasted moment. Love it or hate it (which would be foolish), there’s no denying that his work here exists on another level. With Baby Driver he has made a minor masterpiece, one that constantly fires on all cylinders.

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