Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Baby Driver: A Review

Baby Driver poster.jpg
Baby Driver is the story of a young getaway car driver who is caught in a web of capers and heists and who is trying to get out. It is the newest effort from one of my favourite directors, Edgar Wright, whose previous movies - Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and The World's End - all rank among my personal favourites of the past as homages to their respective genres while also being innovative, hilarious, and often just plain fun - a characteristic that seems harder and harder to find in the ever-increasing world of franchise tentpoles and self-serious sequels. (I do still wish we could have seen his version of Ant-Man, though, even though I'm certain some of the feel of that heist movie ended up here.)

I will admit that I was likely predisposed to enjoy this movie based on my affection for all of director Edgar Wright's efforts, though I will simultaneously admit that my existing affinity for his previous nerdy films was also reason to wonder whether his antics would work within the construct of a more conventional Hollywood movie, cast, and narrative. And I will now gladly admit that I loved Baby Driver for what it was: a tightly wound sonic and visual feast of a heist movie with the right balance of action, charisma, comedy, and the killer tracks to make it work.

There are so many ways this movie could have gone wrong but didn't, starting with casting. There was every possibility that Ansel Elgort might have not been able to carry the sympathetically stoically cool character, but he does in a way that establishes him as a bona fide real actor; his look is (likely deliberately) evocative of Tom Cruise in Risky Business, and although I'm not projecting him as the next coming of the Tom, it's not as much of a stretch as I would have thought to mention them in the same thought.

The supporting cast is fantastic. Lily James is very believable as the waitress/love interest, and she holds her own in a few scenes against some heavyweights. Spacey, Foxx, and Hamm are all established leading men, but they all use their charm and presence to bring unexpected life to what otherwise may have been somewhat flat stereotypes. They each manage to be captivating without chewing their way through their scenes; these are three men who know how to do what they are being asked to do, and they do it incredibly well in character while still being magnetic in their roles.

I do understand the criticisms that some people had of the cast, characters, and the story, and I can see why some people would be more cynical of the movie and what it did. It did at times feel like it was on the edge of cliche, but I think that it never really traversed into that space without winkingly knowing what it was doing and embracing it as homage, rather than merely perpetuating tired tropes; perhaps nowhere was this more evident than when Wright used what is arguably the most truly cliched driving song - Radar Love - and still managed to make it feel fresh and interesting.

I know some critics will find the movie derivative and unoriginal, but I think that Wright strikes the balance between deference and discovery well. This is a great drive heist movie as part of a long tradition, but there are enough new elements and pieces here to make this entry memorable and meaningful to both generations past and present (and, I would imagine, future). Many will also point to 2011's Drive as the reinvention of the genre and deride this movie for being more "mainstream" than that one was, but I think both movies can - and should - coexist as different entries in the same tradition (which reminds me that I still need to watch Walter Hill's The Driver).

I have heard some criticisms about the setting of the movie - Atlanta- feeling kind of generic, but I think it works both for the style and the substance of the movie, and that some of the metaphorical resonance of the movie (which I think is there and that I'm not just trying to impose a "deeper meaning" on what is mostly just an action movie) comes from that setting; exactly what that is I'm not sure, but I do think that it functions as more than a convenient tax break for the filmmakers.

This is a sumptuous visual spectacle, with all of the tricks Wright has used in the past and more, but it's the aural element of the film that really sets it apart. Wright has used music to great effect in his past efforts, but he hits a new level with the soundtrack here. Not only does the soundtrack have stylistic significance, but it also manages to convey character and have emotional resonance within the context of the movie's action - plus, any movie that features Queen in a key scene is usually good with me.

Sure, there are other nitpicks to find with the movie, but it was just so much fun as an action movie with great set pieces and comedic interludes and such a treat to find something original and self-contained that I did not find myself questioning the internal logic or structure of the movie. It's a great thrill, and I will definitely let Baby Driver take me for a ride again.

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