If you're walking down the right path and you're willing to keep walking, eventually you'll make progress View More
Back in the mid 90’s I was a student of film, obsessed with every new idea whilst simultaneously being immersed in the movies of the past. Just to confuse matters I also had one eye looking to the east; I was discovering films from both Europe and Asia in depth for the first time. It was at this time that I first saw Quentin Tarantino’s first two movies Reservoir Dogs (a couple of years after its original release) and Pulp Fiction (on opening night). As with many other people at the time I couldn’t decide if I should marvel at the originality or recoil at the plagiarism of Tarantino. I soon came to realise what Tarantino was doing wasn’t plagiarism, it wasn’t even homage, it went so much deeper than that! Quentin Tarantino was, and hopefully still is a sponge sucking up all that he comes into contact with; but when you squeeze that sponge, you don’t get what went in, you don’t even get a mixture of what went in, you get the best bits of what went in coloured by Tarantino’s own vision. Why am I saying this? Because this week I have seen Baby Driver, written and directed by Edgar Wright, the British director I can’t help comparing to Tarantino.
Yet to be released in the UK or USA, Baby Driver currently has a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 100% based with an average rating of 8.5/10; to put it another way, its bloody good! Is it Edgar Wright’s best film? That is too subjective to answer, it is certainly his most accomplished, and I think it is my favourite. For the uninitiated, here is the obligatory synopsis:
Baby (Ansel Elgort) has been a getaway driver since before he was old enough to drive. Following a childhood accident we learn about as the narrative unfolds, Baby suffers from tinnitus. To drown out the hum of his condition he listens to music on his IPod (other fruit and none fruit based devices are available). Anything beyond this would be a spoiler, the trailer already gives too much away.
What is so good about what on the surface is a genre movie with a thin plot? The answer to that is both obvious and strangely intangible. The largely recognisable cast (Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Bernthal and Jamie Foxx) are all fantastic, particularly a surprisingly understated Kevin Spacey. His performance is as measured and deadpan as when he appeared in the David Mamet penned Glengarry Glen Ross a quarter of a century ago. Elgort is a revelation displaying both more subtlety and likeability than in his more teen friendly movies. Hamm and Foxx are clearly having the most fun with the most character roles. But the brilliance goes so far beyond just the performances. The characters anchor the movie but the sublime script keeps the movie ticking along perfectly keeping the audience in the palm of its metaphorical hand. I wouldn’t go as far as calling the trailer bait and switch, but it is as wonderfully misleading as you would expect in a few subtle ways.
The aforementioned references to other movies are exactly subtle, but they aren’t heavy-handed either. I can see Smokey and the Bandit (1977), The Driver (1978), The Blues Brothers (1980), Point Break (1991) and Heat (1995). There is probably also a bit of Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Drive (2011),not to mention Monsters, Inc. (2001) that is both seen and referenced. I haven’t even mentioned the music yet. Edgar Wright has described writing a scene for every song used, a feat he really has accomplished. It’s so easy slip a few classic tracks into a movie, Baby Driver does so much more than that. The music choices aren’t always obvious, but they are always perfect, and perfectly fit the movie. There are little moments of brilliance including scenes cut to the rhythm of the song, or rewinding a song to time with the robbery. There are also moments we hear from Baby’s point of view with the drone of tinnitus.
This is Baby’s story so we only get as glimpse or a mention of the other characters when they are not interacting with Baby. This works well for the film as a whole but does leave Lily James’ Debora a little thinly drawn. This is a filmmaking choice rather than a mistake. It actually works to the benefit of the other characters, namely; Doc (Kevin Spacey), Buddy and Darling (Jon Hamm and Eiza González) who we don’t always know what to expect from them. The Atlanta setting is also key, set in LA, Chicago or Boston it would be a different film (It couldn’t be set in New York traffic) it also gives us marvellous southern accents and evokes the outlaw spirit of films from the 70’s and 80’s.
Fun, funny and charming, Baby Drive manages to be both original and familiar a totally joyous experience and the perfect antidote to the soulless blockbusters and heavy counterprogramming of the summer.