SXSW Review: Baby Driver

Ever the master craftsman, Edgar Wright essentially makes a bold proclamation with the opening scene of  Baby Driver. Listen closely and you can almost hear him say: “I’ll give you 5 minutes. When that’s done 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 will push next .

At the conceptual, Baby Driver sounds like a potential nightmare. A mish-mash of action and musical elements that recall some 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, the picture is also his most mainstream effort, at least as pertains to the story. This isn’t directly a big knock against the movie, as things are 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 years ago. To counteract the ringing in his ears, he drowns out the world with music on his ever trusty iPod. Baby is employed by Doc (Kevin Spacey), who traditionally never works with the same team twice. 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 crews they work with are a slew of familiar faces, who each get at least one opportunity to shine. Two among them stand out above the rest, for good reason too, as they’re the characters who provide the film with much needed pathos and levity. Jamie Foxx erupts as Bats, an outspoken and flamboyant career criminal who relishes in being the wild card. Foxx clearly is having a ball, constantly reminding the audience why he’s been a reliable actor for the past couple decades. Even better served by the material is Buddy (Jon Hamm). Buddy is muscle and menace combined, though he takes a particular protective eye towards 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 a simply concerned with heist after heist, it would run the risk of growing stale quite quickly. Thankfully Wright has a complete vision to set his film apart from the pack and in doing so creates a new sub-genre. The likes of which are sure to be copied and emulated to a much much lesser degree, for the next several years.

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

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

Baby Driver is a special treat. The 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 this is on another level. With Baby Driver he has made a minor masterpiece, one that fires on all cylinders.

Baby Drive
90%Overall Score
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