Baby Driver

by Greg Vellante

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday June 28, 2017

'Baby Driver'
'Baby Driver'  

Edgar Wright's "Baby Driver" begins, of course, in a car. Our title character, white buds placed firmly in his ears, sunglasses coolly shading his eyes, gears up a tune on his retro-looking iPod: "Bellbottoms" by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. The song begins with two heavy-hitting eighth notes of drums and guitar on the first beat of every measure, each of which comes with its own accompanying cut and shot to introduce us to the company within the vehicle. Obviously, there's Baby (Ansel Elgort), our driver, and the trio of fellow criminals around him gearing up for a heist -- Griff (Jon Bernthal), Buddy (Jon Hamm) and his girlfriend, Darling (Eiza GonzŠlez).

Once the real beat kicks in on the track, an obvious director would amp the music up and slam to a title card, or some cleverly crafted shot. But Wright holds for a bit, lets the action build up, then delivers a surprising moment that perfectly encapsulates both the essence of Baby Driver the character and "Baby Driver" the film. I wouldn't dare spoil it here, but the impact hits like a bullet train of pure, uncut joy.

As the actual driving commences, Wright continues to exploit this ecstasy in new and exciting ways. I consider myself blessed that for the second time in two years, I've witnessed an opening car chase sequence that has left me breathless, mouth agape and a tad misty-eyed, all while knowing that what I was witnessing was only the beginning. While "Baby Driver" doesn't quite keep up the same level of momentum that George Miller's 2015 masterwork "Mad Max: Fury Road" does, it still puts the pedal to the metal in ways that other filmmakers could only dream of accomplishing. The art of the car chase is a tricky affair, but Wright lets the audience know they're in good hands almost immediately.

"Baby Driver" understands that a car chase -- with its 80-plus MPH movement, metal crashing into metal and second-short instances where one wrong move could mean demise -- is supposed to feel dangerous. It gets that the camera and editing and the soundtrack are supposed to dip and dive and swerve and accelerate with the action of the chase. Among so many things, "Baby Driver" is, first and foremost, an exercise in craft, something of which Edgar Wright has consistently proved he's on the pulse.

The filmmaker has always found ways to blend music and visuals in exciting, hilarious, moving and monumental ways. In these regards, "Baby Driver" is his orchestral opus. Everything, from the timing of the cuts to the blasting of gun fire, even down to an out-of-focus finger tapping on a coffee mug, is timed perfectly in sync with the soundtrack.

It makes sense when you have a protagonist who, scarred mentally and physically from a childhood accident, uses music to cope by consistently feeding music into his eardrums. His entire life is set to a soundtrack, and thus the entire movie follows suit. By keeping the music on almost the same plateau as the filmed elements, Wright captures that serendipitous essence of when a light turns green and you accelerate directly in sync with the beat drop on your stereo's sound system, or how sometimes when you're walking the streets with headphones blocking out all other sounds, life just feels like a music video in which you're the star.

Admittedly though, all of these flourishes and confectionary doses of craft make "Baby Driver" feel like the work of a much earlier Wright. Often auteurs will fire on all cylinders with their earlier films, then learn to refine their style as their filmography progresses. Wright reverses this process, creating a work that is undeniably him to an almost exhausting degree. It won't be up to everyone's mileage, and while the film definitely left me yearning for something a little less on the nose, it's still a work I strongly admire from a contemporary film artist I unabashedly adore.

Does the film ever live up to the bliss of its opening moments? Not quite; but, I'll be damned if it doesn't try and succeed in, at the very least, being one of the coolest movies I'll likely see this year. Akin to a catchy pop song, it is perhaps the lightest and most accessible of Edgar Wright's work -- the product of an artist with a singular vision that becomes oversaturated by its own design. But in a Hollywood system that is constantly bombarding us with mindless bullshit and commerce-driven brand names, it's always refreshing to see something like "Baby Driver" cut through the norm and truly deliver on its aptitude for ingenuity.