Edgar Wright’s fascination with the generic trappings of American cinema has finally taken him firmly stateside for Baby Driver, in his first production since the end of ‘The Cornetto Trilogy’. A sun soaked action comedy coated in the arms of retrograde influences and modern customs – a toe-tapping masterpiece of visual construction and heartfelt sincerity.
A fairly traditional story of stock types and narrative expectation follow our lead, Baby (Ansel Elgort), on his escapades as a talented getaway driver and his desire to escape his criminal life with his love Deborah (Lily James). But what Wright is able to draw from its components are rich and characterful performances from his entire cast of relative unknowns and bona fide A-List talents.
Ansel Elgort might give the impression of a plain hero performer, but from the opening sequence of a Gene Kelly-like dance sequence down the block to pick up coffee, Elgort announces himself as a born movie star. Charismatic and charming, yet brooding and straight-laced, he holds attention every second he’s onscreen with effortless command. His support comes in the form of a remarkable cast of names all at the top of their game. Jamie Foxx is the most fun he’s been since Django Unchained, Jon Hamm treads a careful line of confidant and psychopath, and Kevin Spacey steals many of the film’s best lines as the dangerous head of the operation.
While Lily James’ Deborah isn’t granted as much time as the heavy hitters, she’s a wonderful presence and a character of agency and pure sympathy as the idealised figure of escape in Baby’s world, and Eiza González leaves an impression of one of badass halves of the film’s most screwed up couple.
On a technical level, this might be the best work of Wright’s career to date. His aesthetic value for editing, transitions, staging and camera movement leave every single scene impeccably perfect in production – always mining the most out of the possibility for storytelling with breathless timing and precision. The action sequences are incredibly involving and well-handled, framed and tackled with physicality and the occasional bursts of extreme violence, and the films third act evolution into the same kind of pictures that have influenced it descends into a frenzied extravaganza of emotional power, brash shifts and breathless action in one of 2017s most satisfying climaxes.
But despite the visual sensation, Baby Driver is an aural pleasure featuring one of the best soundtracks of the year. Music has always been of great significance to Wright’s projects, but here it takes on a transcendent function that literally soundtracks the diegesis of the entire film. Shaping significance at every moment with clarity and hilarity, Baby’s soundtrack to his own life paints an audible picture of his journey in vein of a musical. This is all without mention of the spectacular sound design that rattles and bangs its way through synchronised visual ballets of movement and flow with impossible energy and style.
If the film lacks anything, then it’s the meaty commentary of society so inherent to his work on the ‘The Cornetto Trilogy’. It’s not a film that stands to be about anything more than its own narrative function as an extravagant heist picture populated with sweet and sour characters. This is Baby’s story of maturation and change – from title to track list – which sees him transform from the timid child with the hard exterior into his own legend, all the while never losing track of his open-handed spirit.
Baby Driver sounds like a tricky sell, but its execution is so faultless, its screenplay so tight, its passion so plain and its heart so just and upbeat that it deserves a place in people’s hearts for taking its heavy influences, and making something so loud and unique in its own right to constitute its status as one of Wright’s best pieces of work.