With ‘Baby Driver,’ Edgar Wright revs up an instant classic

Baby DriverThrough the smash-bang symphony Baby Driver, Edgar Wright, the beloved genre king behind Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, brings passion to pulp.

Baby Driver is nearly two hours of joy, spontaneity, creativity and gripping gravity, all packaged in a Rube Goldberg machine, where every finger tap, blinking light, music note, street sign and engine rev is timed to the moment.

Wright’s attempt at the “car chase movie” certainly crosses off all of the boxes associated with effective engine entertainment. The hero is cool and confident, there’s a girl at his side, the bad guys are slack-jawed and mean, the action is fast, the music is loud, the road gets narrower with every turn. This movie is Harrison Ford’s character in American Graffiti – well, at least the legend of him. The real guy was kind of an actual baby.

But, where Wright’s movie steers away from the pack is through the characters. We all know Wright’s penchant for rat-a-tat dialogue and smash-cut storytelling. But here he shows off one of his rarest traits… developing rich characters out of established stereotypes and turning them to iron when the tension heats up. You’re as thrilled as you are stomach-lumped by the outcome. You deeply care.

Our hero, Baby (a splendid, assured Ansel Elgort), is cool. He wears a cool jacket, walks in a cool way, dances in the getaway car during the car robbery, rocks shades inside (and probably at night, knowing the type). He’s somewhere between Ryan Gosling’s characters in La La Land and Drive. James Dean’s grandkid. Harrison Ford’s nephew. The cool loner. But he’s also winged. He’s got a nasty case of tinnitus that leads him to consistently pump music into his ears in order to block out the ringing.

Wright makes his Baby – a reluctant getaway driver for a dangerous mobster named Doc (Kevin Spacey, noted scenery chewer) – very slick, but very vulnerable. He cares for his adopted father, an elderly deaf man, and is constantly reminded of the tragic car accident that killed his mother and left him with, as Doc says, a hum in his drum.

Baby gets caught between a rock and a hard place when he’s commissioned by Doc, who’s got the speedster on forced retainer, to take “one last job” with a crew of ne’er-de-wells (Jamie Foxx, Jon Ham, Elsa Gonzalez). He’s found love in a down-to-earth waitress named Deborah (Lily James), with whom he wants to cut town with and start a new life. But, you know how these movies go. Robberies gone awry, backstabbing, and bad news bears block his blissful horizon. Can Baby get to his happily ever after?

Again, look at these characters. Baby already feels iconic… the way Elgort carries himself, the glances in the car, the complex personality. Wright frames him with just the right amount of sure-handed style and careful innocence. He’s a good kid in a bad spot, and all involved give Baby something special.

Doc’s crew members could have been shallow sycophants in other hands, but Wright fleshes them out. Doc is dangerous, but he’s businesslike and defensive of Baby in front of the rougher in the bunch. Foxx is deranged and derelict, but he’s, y’know, seen things, that have influenced his ire. Hamm and Gonzalez are just two love birds taking a cue from Bonnie and Clyde, but they’re seriously in love, and they’ll seriously hurt you if you scuff their vibes.

Wright gives all these characters humanizing scenes, lending them weight and making them more dangerous.

On the opposite end, Deborah isn’t just a floosie Flo at the diner counter. She’s warm, understanding and sincere. She’s a good girl – the kind that makes Baby want to escape his forced-wheeling days and take that drive to the place in the postcards.

Just like with his characters, every scene, every movement, every line of dialogue has some sort of purpose and power. It’s all for a reason, which makes the film startlingly confident in itself and its quality.

Wright must know he’s got a heck of a movie on his hands here – the rip-roaring soundtrack is in lockstep with every scene. The songs quickly become the film’s backbone.

Everything here astounds – the car chases ripple with bravado, the dialogue scenes cut deep, the action is masterfully cut, shot and performed, the relationship between Baby and Deborah aches with love and longing. Every actor is on the top of their game here, likely under the coaching of a true auteur. It’s so methodically brilliant.

So many adjectives, but all fit like a driving glove. This is one of those movies you throw big, glowing words at, hoping people get the message and buy a ticket.

Masterpiece is a big word. Instant classic is a bold claim. But here, they’re in order.

Edgar Wright has crafted a true masterpiece, an instant classic that will be enjoyed for years to come. Not to over-lather the praise, but between this and February’s Get Out, 2017 has already birthed two films destined to be on the decade list.

The characters, the action, the music, the direction, the editing – everything here is baked with love like a batch of grandma’s cookies. Baby Driver is the reason we go to the movies.

Cory Woodroof is a journalist and film critic based in Nashville, Tennessee. He has written for Lumination Network (Lipscomb University's student news service), the Nashville Scene, the Country Music Association's 2012 CMA Fest blog, Brentwood Home Page and other publications. He's a huge fan of catching the previews before a movie and the leading Space Jam expert in the Southeast.

One thought on “With ‘Baby Driver,’ Edgar Wright revs up an instant classic

  1. Great review, Cory. I was hoping to read something good about this film, as I am a fan of Wright, and really looking forward to it. You have said everything I hoped to hear, so thanks are due.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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