Funny, thrilling, and musical, Baby Driver is an action movie like no other with a protagonist that will make you sing.
Any successful action scene and movie has to have a rhythm. Pace is everything. Well, Edgar Wright — best known for Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead — takes that requirement and sets it to a tune. Every one of the action scenes and even the mundane ones are set to a carefully selected tune by our protagonist, Baby (Ansel Elgort). To him, music is life. And since the movie is solidly set in his point of view, every scene, every move, and every heist are music.
But it’s certainly for good reason. At a young age, he was in a car accident that claimed the life of his parents and gave him tinnitus, which means he constantly hears a high-pitched ringing unless he drowns it out with music. However, one good thing came out of it. By using the music as his metronome, he is able to time his moves and reflexes almost perfectly while driving. Doc (Kevin Spacey), a crime boss in Atlanta, took notice of Baby’s skills when Baby stole one of his cars at a young age. Now, Baby works as a getaway driver to pay off his debts to Doc. Doc is fond of Baby. He even points out the even though he never has the same team for a job twice, Baby is always the driver.
However, when we meet Baby, he has almost paid off his debts and owes Doc just one more job. Between his job with Buddy (A delightful Jon Hamm), his wife Darling (Eiza González), and Griff (Jon Bernthal, in a small but meaty role) and last job, he meets Debora (Lily James), a waitress at a diner he frequents. Debora captures his attention when he sees her singing “B-A-B-Y” by Carla Thomas as she walks into the diner. In her, he sees a future outside of crime.
What makes Baby Driver work so well is not only the musicality of the action scenes, though that is certainly vital to its success, it’s the way Baby as a character is presented. Action movies often expect you to like the protagonist because they are the protagonist. They don’t put in the work to make you like the character. With Baby Driver, Wright makes Baby an atypical action movie protagonist. He doesn’t want to be the hero of his story. He wants his story to have the quietest ending possible. However, his line of work doesn’t lend itself to that. Elgort is a huge part of the character’s success. He’s a charmer when he’s silent, but when he gets the chance, he makes a grab for our hearts — he memorably lips syncs to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms” in the opening heist.
That opening scene, in general, is a masterwork of directing and one of the best scenes of the year so far. The bank robbery and ensuing getaway, which is set to the same song, is an action scene like no other. The chase flows with the music. Every swerve, hit, and even yell from the passengers is timed with the music. It allows the scene to have momentum, unlike the smash cut riddled action sequences of the Bourne or Taken franchises. Almost every scene has the same momentum.
Eventually, Baby gets pulled back into Doc’s circle, and he must find a way to protect himself and the people he loves — Debora and his foster dad, (CJ Jones) — before his crimes catch up with him. Interestingly enough, the movie doesn’t end with a car chase, but it certainly subverts any expectations you may have. It’s not the typical crime movie ending. Wright knows that he owes the character of Baby more than that. Throughout the movie, he subtly shows that Baby is more than his life of crime. He is a good person that got pulled into doing bad things. Wright knows that Baby has to atone for that. And the way he does that is almost as thrilling as any action scene in the movie.
Baby Driver feels like the future of action movies. Even though Mad Max: Fury Road still feels like the height of the genre, it was an evocation. Baby Driver is an innovation. Not just because of its musicality, which makes it feel like an old Hollywood musical on wheels, but because of its unique structure, its out of this world characters, and because Baby is a protagonist like no other. That’s not to take away from the rest of the cast. Spacey is chewing the scenery, but in a way that no other actor can pull off. James is a charming romantic lead, Hamm and González are a suave Bonnie and Clyde-esque couple, and Jones helps give Elgort more dimension. However, the real star is Wright’s screenplay and direction. He balances romance, comedy, and action without taking away from any element. You’d better hope Baby Driver is a hit. We need more movies like it.