When was the last time you saw the choreographer listed in the opening credits of an action film? Has an action film even had a choreographer before now? Baby Driver does, and it shows. Ansel Elgort’s Baby grooves down the street like the Gene Kelly of Atlanta’s urban sprawl. The chases and gunfights, too, are choreographed, in a manner of speaking. Cars dance through traffic, while bullets are fired to the beat. Baby Driver is effortlessly stylish. Edgar Wright makes it look easy.
Baby is the getaway driver for Kevin Spacey’s Doc, the meticulous and acerbic brains behind a rotating crew of bank robbers. That crew includes Buddy (John Hamm) and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), your classic head over heels crime couple; and Bats (Jamie Foxx), your classic mentally unstable sociopath.
Baby is perpetually listening to music on a selection of iPods; he was in an accident, and as Doc puts it, still has a hum in the drum and plays music to drown it out. The music isn’t just a distraction from the tinnitus, though. Baby orchestrates his life around his tunes. Everything, from his getaway driving to just walking down the street, is performed to his eclectic musical tastes.
Baby has spent the past few years paying off a debt to Doc (he stole one of Doc’s cars, but impressed the crime boss with his driving skills). Now Baby is ready to get away himself, and just in time: he meets Debora (Lily James), and is immediately smitten. But Doc has become accustomed to his lucky driver, and Baby is pulled back in for one last job.
Anyone expecting something as referential and irreverent as Wright’s Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz will be disappointed. To be sure, Baby Driver owes a debt to the Great cinematic chases – Driver, Bullitt, Smokey and the Bandit, et al. – but it is less a pastiche and more of a new addition to that venerable catalogue.
What will delight the Wright faithful is Baby Driver’s musicality. To call the film a musical would perhaps be an exaggeration, but not much of one. Baby’s playlist informs the mood and pacing just as much as the showtunes of a West Side Story or a Singin’ in the Rain. But dancing crowds are replaced by swerving cars, and crooning lovers – well, there’s still a few of those.
Baby Driver’s musicality manifests in myriad ways. Take a late setpiece which plays out to Focus’ “Hocus Pocus”. During the song’s hard-driving guitar sections, shots are fired to the rhythm of the riffs. When the action momentarily calms down, the break aligns with the song’s quieter yodelling solo. Wright allows his carefully chosen soundtrack to dictate the rhythm of his film in a way that not even James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy can match.
Imagine chases, shootouts and confrontations moving and grooving to the likes of Jon Spencer’s “Bellbottoms” or Queen’s “Brighton Rock”. That’s Baby Driver. Edgar Wright’s film is a toe-tapping, finger-snapping joy, and the coolest car flick in years.