Baby Driver, Edgar Wright’s latest action thriller, hit theaters this week. The film tells the story of Baby (Ansel Elgort), a young and talented getaway driver working for Doc (Kevin Spacey). He wants to leave, but crime boss Doc insists on using Baby’s skills on the biggest heist. Other players in the caper include ex-Wall Street type Buddy (Jon Hamm), his partner Darling (Eiza González), and volatile gunslinger Bats (Jamie Foxx).
Baby dons a pair of sunglasses and ear buds, playing songs on his iPod throughout the day. He even has different colored iPods (white, pink and glittery, etc.) with playlists to suit his mood. Because the tracks pulsing through his ear buds comprise the soundtrack of the film, music functions as another character and brings the viewer a more immersive experience about how Baby sees and hears the world.
There’s a great sequence at the opening credits set to the song “Harlem Shuffle” by Bob & Earl. The lyrics are on the city’s wall graffiti as Baby walks by in the single continuous shot, inducing a liveliness from the start. It’s a pity Wright didn’t incorporate more scenes like that one, but they would have clashed with the darker tone later.
Baby’s love interest, waitress Debora (Lily James), shares his love of music and engages in a back and forth about songs which mention her name. The sunglasses, ear buds, and Baby’s age attract the suspicion of characters like Bats and Griff (John Bernthal), who question his intelligence and loyalty. In contrast, Doc finds it amusing and he insists that “He’s a good kid, and a devil behind the wheel.”
I can’t emphasize enough how intriguing the use of music and sound is, particularly for day-to-day activities. Music is therapeutic for the constant hum in Baby’s ears or tinnitus. Baby’s foster father (CJ Jones) is deaf, but he’s able to enjoy Baby’s playlist through sign language, lip reading, and laying a hand on the speaker to feel the bass beats. The young driver’s fascination with sound reaches comedic heights in his hobby of mixing recorded conversations and his invented beats, producing a fantastic Doc and Griff track in one memorable scene.
Part of Baby Driver‘s appeal lies in the talent of executive producer, writer, and director Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead). Wright weaves elements of a thriller, romance, comedy, and action flick into a formula that feels unique compared to the films coming through the box office. I would argue that his latest film also feels like a superhero movie. The perfect track spurs on Baby’s driving performance as a super driver, allowing him to escape police in broad daylight with adrenaline-fueled maneuvers (and Wright’s high precision cutting). It exhibits itself almost like an obsession when he tells Bats’ team not to rush an armored car until he restarts his song.
Baby managed to compartmentalize the getaway driver role initially, but the darkness of this other life creeps in steadily and threatens the peaceful life he preferred to have with his foster father and new girlfriend. Even though he doesn’t carry a gun, he can’t argue that he’s an innocent player when security guards, police, and bystanders get hurt or killed with each successive job. Those events are easily introduced visually by Wright, who also incorporates the change in tone through the dialogue. Bats and Buddy discuss the idea of a “hex song” or a track that can screw everything up for a person. Buddy and Darling’s romance is juxtaposed against the more innocent and lighter relationship of Baby and Deborah.
Performances are top form with Oscar winners Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey and Emmy winner Jon Hamm in the cast. Lead actors Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars) and Lily James (Cinderella) prove they are up to the task of carrying the film on their shoulders. Rest assured that Baby Driver will take you on a ride to remember.