Wright delivers a glorious thriller-musical with 'Baby Driver'
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Ann Arbor 20 + IMAX, Goodrich Quality 16
Edgar Wright’s latest, “Baby Driver,” has all the fixings of a musical classic. The bright colors, vibrant cinematography and incredible soundtrack all recall movies like 2016’s La La Land as much as anything else. It also happens to feature all manner of pistols and submachine guns, car chases, explosions, murder and mayhem. The drum beats are often timed to the percussive blasts of shotguns. Choreographed scenes feature more parkour and less dancing. Instead of choosing between being a toe-tapping musical and an edge-of-your-seat crime thriller, Wright (“The World’s End”) has once again bucked convention and gone for a marriage of both. The result is one of the best, most infectiously fun movies of the year so far.
“Baby Driver” follows the titular character of Baby (Ansel Elgort, “The Fault in Our Stars”), a getaway driver for Atlanta’s premier bank robbers. As the victim of a car accident at a young age, Baby is constantly afflicted by a ringing in his ears, drowned out by the music he plays all day, every day. That music provides the soundtrack, backbone, heart and soul of “Baby Driver.” You can count the number of scenes that don’t feature Baby’s playlist on one hand, and with music this good, that’s no complaint. Wright clearly chose each song with purpose, a connection to the characters and story that gives them real weight when they play.
Of course, just about any song you’d care to name would sound glorious when played over chase scenes of this jaw-dropping caliber. From the opening scene that introduces the characters and tone without a single word to the terrifying climax, the action scenes on display in “Baby Driver” put those in similar movies — “Fate of the Furious,” I’m looking at you — to shame. They’re fast-paced, of course, but the insertion of Wright’s trademark visual style and wit combined with the stunning practical effects makes each one a treat in its own way. The best of these doesn’t even take place in a car; it’s an exhilarating foot chase through downtown Atlanta that stands as one of the best of its kind from this decade.
The same sense of lyricism and rhythm that reaches from the soundtrack to the action scenes also extends to the characters and their dialogue. There’s not a wasted word or breath. Several scenes almost necessitate a second viewing to make sure the viewer isn’t missing anything.
The talented performers deserve a huge share of that credit. The stand-outs are without a doubt Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”) and Kevin Spacey (“House of Cards”), both playing amoral, unpredictable characters made likeable through the fresh writing and their relationships with their fellow career criminals. In the lead role, Elgort carries the story with a combination of charm and mettle, and his ability to switch from the seriousness of the action to the cheerfulness brought to him by his music and blossoming romance is yet another highlight.
And it would have been all too easy for the romance between Baby and Debora — played by a delightful Lily James (“Downton Abbey”) — to distract from the action, or vice versa, but thanks to the character-driven nature of the story, that’s never the case. Each is given ample time to develop on their own before they’re brought crashing together. In fact, it is here where Wright makes good on the movie musical motifs of the film. While there aren’t any big, bombastic dance numbers — at least, none that don’t involve revving engines and assault rifles — a smaller scene between the two in a laundromat is certainly shot like one.
Taken all together, every bit of “Baby Driver” works in perfect concert with all the rest to create the single coolest movie of the year so far. The word “cool” may seem reductive, but when talking about a movie this high-octane and exciting, yet sweet and affecting, it seems appropriate. It's easy to imagine that in 20 years, “Baby Driver” will be remembered as one of the movies that spawned a new generation of cinephiles. It’s the rare film with something for everyone.