MOZART WITH A GO KART
Over the years, director Edgar Wright has produced some very unique and interesting feature films. Starting out as a director for several short-lived British TV series like Asylum, Mash and Peas, Is it Bill Bailey, Spaced, and a few others, Wright eventually graduated to directing theatrical films, beginning in 2004 with the movie Shaun of the Dead. The film, which starred Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, was a British horror-comedy film that riffed on the idea of a zombie apocalypse (zombies was just starting to become noticeable in pop culture). In general, Shaun of the dead was positively received as was considered a commercial success. This then prompted two create two more similar-style films (even using Pegg and Frost as the main characters), with 2007’s Hot Fuzz (an action-comedy parody) and 2013’s The World’s End (a science fiction-comedy satire). These three films were widely accepted by Wright’s fans, gaining a cult following for these movies, which were dubbed under the name Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (or just simply as the Cornetto trilogy. Additionally, in-between Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, Wright also adapted Bryan Lee O’Malley’s popular graphic novel into the 2010 movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. While not as a commercial success as some of his other films, Scott Pilgrim does have a cult following of fans, citing Wright’s usage of video game nuances and its various cast of actors (most of which are now well-known / recognizable in Hollywood in their respective projects). Wright even won the famed title of directing a superhero blockbuster with Marvel’s 2015 film Ant-Man. Unfortunately, due to creative differences, Wright left the project, with director Peyton Reed replacing Wright in Ant-Man’s director chair. Now, almost four years since his last feature, director Edgar Wright along with Sony Pictures (Tri-Star and MRC), presents his return to the big screen with the action-thriller Baby Driver. Does Wright’s newest film make a clean getaway to the top or does it fail to drive its heist premise home?
Suffering from a condition called “tinnitus” and constantly listens to music to drown out the ringing in his ear, Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a talented getaway driver under the employment of notorious Atlanta kingpin Doc (Kevin Spacey) and desire to eventually pay off his debt to his boss and leave the life of crime behind him; searching for something more fulfilling. As a getaway driver, Baby’s days are mostly spent speeding away from heist targets, escorting colorful robbers such as Griff (Jon Bernthal), Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Gonzalez), and Bats (Jamie Foxx) to safety once the jobs are complete. To make everything flow smoothly and avoid danger, Doc never uses the same crew (combination of individuals) more than once, but Baby has been his driver for years and is something of a “lucky charm” to him. As his debt to Doc begins to wind down, Baby comes across a waitress named Debora (Lily James) and the two quickly fall in love with each other, eventually dreaming up the idea of driving out West and never looking back. Unfortunately, Doc isn’t ready to let Baby go so easily, pulling the reluctant youth back into criminal underworld to pull off another job of robbing a post office. While he goes along with the plan, Baby looks for a way to get out, but, as events unfold, his last heist job doesn’t go exactly according to plan.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Being a movie fan, I’ve seen most of Edgar Wright’s works. Not so much of his early days of directing TV shows, but rather his theatrical feature films. Naturally, I’ve seeing his Cornetto trilogy, finding that the second entry (Hot Fuzz) to be the best in the series. What can I say…. i love action movies and how Wright parodied that, especially during the second-half of the movie, was excellent. However, perhaps my favorite Edgar Wright movie has to be Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Never read the graphic novels (I know of them), but I just love the movie. So many good quotes, great visual “video game” styles, so many familiar faces…. it’s just a great and fun movie to watch. Additionally, because I forgot to mention this in my opening paragraph, Wright is also a producer and writer, co-writing several screenplays for films, including most of the films he directed as well as 2011’s animated feature film The Adventure of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. Also, I do remember hearing about Wright being original attached as director to Marvel’s Ant-Man and, judging by his directing / style of his previous movies, would’ve made a pretty interesting MCU superhero feature. Unfortunately, I guess it wasn’t in the cards for Wright to direct Ant-Man and couldn’t see “eye-to-eye” with Marvel wanted the film to be. It’s a shame as many will always wonder what Wright’s version of Ant-Man would’ve been instead of Reed’s version.
As for Baby Driver. To be honest, I actually really didn’t hear much about this movie. It’s true. Not much internet buzz or people put it on there “most anticipated films of 2017” lists. I actually never even saw the movie’s trailers in theaters (and I go to my local theaters at least once or twice a week). So, Baby Driver wasn’t really on my radar for quite some time. It wasn’t until some people started posting early advance reviews of the movie, which most were positive, online roughly around two weeks right before its opening week. Thus, without even glancing at the film’s trailers online, I decided to purchase a ticket to see the new movie (several weeks after it opening week) to see what all the hype was about. So, while I did see the movie, I kept on delaying my review, saying “I’ll do my review for Baby Driver this week” and then push to the following week and so on and so forth. So, here I am now, doing my review for the movie the same week for its home release on DVD / Blu-Ray. I guess it was just one of those things that just fell through the cracks with me. Anyways…. what did I think of the movie? Well, I really liked it. In a nutshell, Baby Driver is an exhilarating musical-filled heist film that’s shines brilliantly due to energy, creativeness, and strong performances.
While his Cornetto trilogy and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World were branded as mixture of comedy and whatever genre they were trying riff on, Wright demonstrates his creative / directional evolution with Baby Driver. Naturally, there are moments of levity (i.e. lines of humor) scattered thought the movie, but Baby Drive is more of a crime heist flick that’s been manage under Wright’s watchful eye. The result is a film that seems both familiar, but somewhat of a breath of fresh air….and that’s a good thing. Given Wright’s talents, the film is presented in a very stylish way, but still keeps the tension high and never skips the dramatic beats. It’s been said that Baby Driver has been a passion project for Wight…and it definitely shows. As the saying goes: the proof is in the pudding. As a whole, Baby Driver is sort of a departure from the typical bank robbery / heist films of the past, making the escapes / getaways from the crime scene more prevalent than the actual robberies. It is within these moments is where the movie truly shines, showcasing Baby’s talents behind the wheel by escaping police with style and hearing Baby’s choice of music, which usually are pretty catchy. Additionally, the film’s script, which is penned by Wright himself, is also quite unique, introducing a protagonist character that literally “dance to the beat of his own drum” (if you catch my meaning) rather than some battle-hardened robber / criminal-turn-good-guy archetype character mold.
The action sequences of the film (i.e. most of the car chase scenes and a few shootouts) are meticulously edited to perfect match up with whatever sang Baby is listening at the current moment, delivering some fun scenes to both watch and see and proves that the movie has some great execution in its timing. So, it comes to know surprise that the film two editor (Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss) must be highly commended for their work on the movie as well as cinematographer Bill Pope for creating some creative sequences. Also, while the film’s score by Steven Price is good, the really musical soundtrack highlight of the feature has to be all the various songs that are shuffled throughout Baby’s iPod. All of them are catchy, unique, and make sure that there’s never a dull moment (audio-wise) in the movie.
There are some minor problems found within Baby Driver, which places the movie right out of reach being truly great. Perhaps the most noticeable is how numb the picture will leave a viewer by the time the credits begin to roll. Wright has built a very well-oiled machine with Baby Driver, crafting a picture that fun, energetic, and something wild, but it can be a bit too much, especially when the movie enters its third act. Additionally, the movie as a few pacing problems to naviagate throughout the movie, including the film’s ending, which is a bit elongated, with Wright creating an epilogue that could’ve been told in a more minimalistic fashion.
The cast in Baby Driver is also another highlight of the feature, with the youthful Ansel Elgort leading the charge as the film’s main protagonist character Baby (yes…B-A-B-Y). Elgort, known for his roles in The Fault in Our Stars, the Divergent movies, and Money, Women, & Children, makes for a very likeable and kind-hearted main lead, giving Baby the right amount of youthful innocence to make him quite endearing and easy to root for throughout the movie. Additionally, while his character isn’t the movie talkative character in Baby Driver, Elgort can easily change (or rather “shift gears”) to be serious no-nonsense persona when he’s “on the job” with his criminal associates. When he’s not behind the wheel or listening to tunes, Wright gives enough time for the young driver to have some touching relationship building moments with several of his supporting characters, including his elderly foster parent Joe, who is played by CJ Jones (What are you…. deaf? and White Space), and his romantic ties to the waitress Debora, who is played by Lily James (Downton Abbey and Cinderella)/ Another good thing about Elgort is that he and James have chemistry with each other, making their on-screen relationship work and believable. Again, it’s nothing groundbreaking or new, but they definitely have that “young love” look and appeal when their together.
The roster of Baby Driver’s supporting characters is terrific. Assembled from someone well-known / recognizable faces, this ensemble makes the most of the screen-time, with each one bringing their own certain charm to their respective roles, with Wright placing them in the right scenario (be action oriented scene or simply conversation dialogue to make them standout. Perhaps the biggest standout of this group has to be Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained and Ray) as the impulsive and violent Bats. Foxx brings his charisma to the roll and makes him truly memorable as the unhinged Bats. Basically, you hate him in the movie, but it’s a love-hate and Foxx’s is great at it. The next big standout character has to be Kevin Spacey (House of Cards and American Beauty) as the big-time kingpin criminal boss Doc, showcasing Spacey’s classic attributes of his dry wit and unshakeable demeanor. It’s not really a game changer role in the crime heist movies, but Spacey never makes Doc feel as stereotypical crime boss. Additionally, despite their limited time for characterization, actor Jon Hamm (Mad Men and Million Dollar Arm) and actress Elza Gonzalez (From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series and True Love), but are still great side character due to their performances as Doc hired bank robbers Buddy and Darling, especially Hamm’s Buddy towards the end of the film.
The only supporting character that seems a wonky is the character of Griff, who is played by actor Joe Bernthal (The Accountant and The Punisher). While there’s nothing wrong with Bernthal’s acting ability (I do like him as an actor), but, due to his very limited screen (he’s only in the beginning part of the film), there’s really not much to the character. Thus, it sort of begs the question on why was he brought into the film to begin with, especially when Bernthal’s name is so easily attached with the rest of the actors in Baby Driver. It’s like Jonah Hill in the 2016 movie Hail, Caesar!, who’s name was attached with the rest of the big named actors and actresses, but was only in one scene. It’s sort of like that with Bernthal’s Griff and it just seems kind of odd.
Speed, heists, getaways, and the love of music are instrumental beats found within the movie Baby Driver. Director Edgar Wright’s newest film finds the director racing back onto the big-screen with a high-energy heist adventure, finding Wright effectively tweak the classic scenario to his style of filmmaking. While there are some minor bumps along the way, movie’s overall end result is fantastical, especially thanks to Wright’s direction, editing, musical nuances, and a group of talented actors who play some interesting and colorful characters. Personally, I liked this movie. Like I said, I had really no clue of what I was getting into when I saw this movie and I was quite surprised at how much I love this movie. While not original, but Wright certainly does infuse his own creativity into this project, which makes the journey all the worthwhile for everyone, including us (the viewers) and its cast of characters. Thus, I’m would definitely give Baby Driver my “highly recommended” stamp of approval. In an age of bloated blockbusters, disappointing sequels, and a ton of “page-to-screen” films, Baby Driver is indeed a breath of fresh air, representing that the creative juices of Hollywood are still alive and are capable of crafting a moviegoing experience. So, just sit back and enjoy Baby’s musical tunes and get prepare for a fun cinematic ride.
4.4 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: June 28th, 2017
Reviewed On: October 13th, 2017
Baby Driver is 112 minutes long and is rated R for violence and language throughout