Review: Edgar Wright's 'Baby Driver' is an Act of Clockwork Precision

June 26, 2017

Baby Driver Review

The British writer-director behind the "Three Flavours Cornetto" trilogy – consisting of Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), and The World's End (2013) – and also the director behind 2010's Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Edgar Wright, is known for his unique, kinetic, energetic cinematic style. Unlike most comedy directors working today, Wright finds humor in the filmmaking, utilizing framing, lighting, mise-en-scène, camera movement, editing, and sound to pull as much comedy out of a scene as possible. With his latest film, Baby Driver, Wright has not only improved upon his signature style, but matured with it.

Like David Fincher, Wright is honing his craft with every film he makes, relying less on his style and more on imbuing the style with substance. If his early works are similar to those of Fincher's (Se7en, The Game, Fight Club), then Baby Driver is his Zodiac — a disciplined and elegantly orchestrated thriller that feels both effortless and impossibly intricate. It uses music to inform the characters and their emotions, the same way clever composition underscores the themes and characters of Fincher's films.

Ansel Elgort (of The Fault in Our Stars) stars as "Baby", a good-hearted getaway driver who gets criminals from point A to point B with the help of the soundtrack running through his head. That's because Baby's got his escape route plotted to the beat of specific songs that go straight from his expertly curated iPod straight to his ears. His pulse-pounding playlist translates into precise hairpin turns, gear shifts, and evasive maneuvers that leave his passengers in awe and their pursuers, the Atlanta Police Department, in the dust.

Baby works for "Doc" (Kevin Spacey), a white-collar crime boss who specializes in daytime bank heists, thanks in part to Baby's wheelman skills. Doc's go-to gunslingers include slicked-back outlaw Buddy (Jon Hamm), the brunette bombshell Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), and the mentally unstable Bats (Jamie Foxx), whose suspicions about Baby's abilities begin to create a dangerous rift in an otherwise smooth-running operation. Baby, meanwhile, is saving up to get out of the game for good at the behest of his elderly deaf foster father (CJ Jones).

Complicating matters is the fact that Baby has fallen for the kind-eyed Debora (Lily James), the newest waitress at the '50s diner he routinely visits. Like Baby, she is looking for a way out. "Sometimes all I want is to head west on I-20 in a car I can't afford, with a plan I don't have, just me, my music, and the road," she says. That sounds great to Baby, but one last job stands between them and the open road. But this time, the heist isn't an act of clockwork precision. Mistakes are made, and the consequences of each wrong turn begin to weigh heavily on Baby, forcing the wheelman to get his hands dirty to protect the ones he loves.

Baby Driver Review

Baby Driver is an action thriller executed as postmodern musical comedy, where exhilarating car chases and intense shootouts are choreographed to the beat of over 30 tracks, including "Bellbottoms" from The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, "Neat Neat Neat" by The Damned, and "Brighton Rock" by Queen. It's not just the action sequences that are painstakingly choreographed to music, either. Baby gets his own La La Land-esque dance number, set to Bob & Earl's "Harlem Shuffle." While on a coffee run, Baby nimbly traverses the streets of Atlanta in step with the song as lyrics appear as part of the mise-en-scène. These scenes are incredibly intricate, with everything in the frame — pedestrians, café workers, street preachers, children, dogs — in perfect synchronization to Wright's soundtrack.

In addition to these brilliantly executed action-musical numbers, there's a lot going on within the story itself. While the story is very much Baby's, Baby Driver is an ensemble movie. As much as the kid would like to escape his "co-workers," he can't. He's a loner — a member of a gang he doesn't want to be in, and one that he can't seem to get away from. Elgort does an excellent job of capturing Baby's conflicting emotions around his loyalty to Doc and his desperate need to get away from him at the same time. As for Doc, Spacey excels at being bad. Whether it's Glengarry Glen Ross, Se7en, The Usual Suspects, House of Cards, or Baby Driver, Spacey has a way of delighting you with how corrosive and venomous he can be. Likewise, Hamm and Foxx are equal parts charismatic and sinister, and they manage to be funny while entirely unlikable.

My favorite part of the ensemble, however, is CJ Jones' character Joseph. Many of the film's sweetest moments come not from Baby and Debora's relationship, but from the kid's interactions with the elderly deaf man who has raised him. It's this relationship, in juxtaposition to the high level of danger that threatens both Baby and Joseph, that creates the highest stakes in a Wright film yet. And because of those high stakes, the film has the most heart of any of Wright's work thus far - a sign that the filmmaker is maturing and evolving beyond what's expected of him.

The only downside to Wright's immensely entertaining film is that, while masterfully staged and executed, there isn't anything about it that feels as revelatory as seeing Shaun of the Dead or Scott Pilgrim vs the World for the first time. I don't know, maybe it's because the way Wright combined genres in those movies felt more fluid, where the plot, characters, and filmmaking all came together perfectly to create something that felt fresh and new. Here, dynamic action sequences, creative filmmaking, and great performances elevate a story that, without wall-to-wall music fueling it, isn't that interesting. Still, Wright's enthusiasm for storytelling is infectious, and despite feeling like I didn't see anything new in Baby Driver, I certainly enjoyed the ride.

Adam's Rating: 4 out of 5
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  • Bo
    Thanks for the review, Adam. I had absolutely no plans to see this piece of cotton candy anyway, but your review certainly concretized that decision. Let me mention the ways in which you accomplished that...this is this guy's, what, fifth movie and now he going to be 'imbuing the style with substance'? I burst out laughing when I read that. Then, coupled with that and having to do with substance, in your last paragraph you state...'a story that, without wall-to-wall music fueling it, isn't that interesting'. Again, I chuckled. So thanks for your review. It would seem this director has a solid following and those who have enjoyed his past movies will no doubt love this movie...elevating his reputation even more...I suppose. I hear he longs to direct a Star Wars movie. Enough said and only furthers to concretize my non-interest in him and his work even more.
    • Jon Odishaw
      No one respects you save for Tarek. Your views and tiresome and trollish.
      • Bo
        Well, respect from a man like tarek is a delight. Disrespect from a guy like you is what's tiresome. Come on, Jon. You've gotten upset with me before and labeled me insufferable. Just because I express my opinions, which differs from yours and which I believe to be intelligent and knowledgable? It's obvious you like what I find deplorable, but I refrain from attacking you personally. Perhaps you need to look at not taking someone else's opinions so personally. My views are not tiresome and trollish. That is just your opinion, yet you state it as if it's fact. I don't know, Jon. It seems you are being a bit immature and snotty and resisting hearing opinions from someone who probably has forgotten more about films than you will ever know. That's not intended as a put down like you engage in. It's a fact. You lack respect too because you seem to get your feelings personally hurt by my opinions. And yes, tarek. He's a mature guy and an intelligent guy. I enjoy his views and opinions much more than I do yours because you seem to be a part of the infantilized audience of today and resent others who criticize that. You seem to have difficulty with those kinds of people. Why don't you just ignore me instead of being snitty and rude? You're just revealing your own shortcomings when you behave this way and certainly not my shortcomings. You also close yourself off from knowledge and change and that's just ignorance wanting to remain ignorant. I express my opinions regarding films and filmmakers on a film site with hopes to engage in intelligent dialogue. You offer none. No conversations or even asking me why I think what I think. Just immature whining. It's unbecoming and embarrassing for you. Please leave me alone if you can't offer up intelligent differences of opinions from mine for a respectful conversations. Otherwise I'll just block you and be done with your childishness. I care enough to reply to you, this time, but I'm pretty much done if you can't see the error of your ways and can't or refuse to learn about films and cultivate a more sophisticated approach to viewing and appreciating them.
        • Hey Bo. There is indeed a big Buzz around this movie. People are selling it as a must see masterpiece. Will you be surprised if you knew that William Friedkin Himself praised to the skies this movie in one of his tweets? I was surprised...Now was it a kind maneuver to help Edgar Wright in promoting his movie or is it really this big surprise everybody is talking about? To be confirmed...
          • Bo
            Hey...saw this second reply of yours. Yes, there is a buzz around this movie for sure and I still smell a vapidness about it with the masterpiece oh man oh man. Read an interesting and smart review of it by Michael Sragow over on Film Comment. He has some good things to say about it, but also had problems with it; it's being 20 mins. too long for one and that the driving stunts look like carefully executed routines and Wright is doing too much 'to please' all aspects of an audience. Just the kind of stuff I hate from filmmakers of today. As far as Friedkin, I'd not seen his praises and have no clue what's behind it. I've not had any interest in him or his work for a long time now. Bug and Killer Joe were atrocious. How does the guy who made The French Connection, Sorcerer, To Live and Die in LA make such misfires as those two movies? He was one of the great ones, though. I think he's daffy praising this one. Cheers. Always good to hear from you. Hope Jon doesn't get too upset by our
          • Saw Baby Driver a few nights ago and Bo, you should give it a shot! Maybe not in the theater, but at least on cable/Netflix. Shot on 35mm, the soundtrack is phenomenal and the driving is intense. Also, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx are strong, but Lily James is simply adorable. The final act isn't that strong, but the rest of the movie makes up for it.
          • Bo
            Glad you liked it, Raw, but it's highly, highly unlikely that I will. I've seen the song list of the movie and find it lame and stupid. That Bellbottoms song is an embarrassment. In my humble opinion, of Coupled with the fact that I tried to watch Shaun of the Dead last night and just shook my head at how silly, sophomoric and immature and infantile it was. I gutted it out for about 20 mins. and then sped thru it some more and then finally just deleted it. To say Wright's sensibilities and mine are at opposite ends of the spectrum is a vast understatement. I've no interest in this guy or his work. Sorry, Raw....just telling it like it is for me.
          • deerosa
            In my opinion I was not sold with all the reviews. I took someone who just got off tour(musician) and did not see many previews or reviews going into the film. It was nice to get an opinion from someone like that. He absolutely enjoyed it and said it was his best movie so far this year. I was pleased to see Flea in this as well :).
          • Thanks for sharing deerosa. A fresh perspective is always useful.
      • To this I will answer by: "Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit"
        • Jon Odishaw
          I don't speak Latin
          • Oh I can translate it to you. it says: I love coffee. ;D
          • Bo
   said, tarek and this is the mentality we are dealing with here and obviously way beyond the comprehension level of poor Jon. I feel for him laying himself so open to his childish and unsophisticated post(s). Poor guy. However, this is an excellent quote by Charlemagne back in like AD 800, yes? So weird....all poor Jon had to do was google it to find out the meaning of your once again, very intelligent and appropriate reply. To lack even the curiosity to do something as simple as that if so unfortunate. My heart goes out to him. Cheers!
          • CyraNOSE
            why don't you 2 get a room
          • Bo
            Thanks...this is what we mean by infantile. Cheers.
    • Late to the party, but I respectfully disagree and welcome the escape and eagerly open wide for the cotton candy! Lol But I also don't always trust reviews; sometimes you have to experience it for yourself. You may be surprised!
      • Bo you are a little late to the party, Raw...and I knew we would disagree on this movie and my original post was really jokingly meant for, however, received some 'other' As far as critics go there are simply not any really intelligent and very good ones anymore. I read many and can see what their tastes are as they are usually pretty consistent. Alex here, especially from the shorts he shares, like pretty middle of the road and sentimental kinds of stuff. That's cool, but one must take that into account when reading his views on movies. Like I totally take his views on the new Penn movie with a grain of salt. It's not ever likely he's going to like such a dark movie about dark subject matter. Cheers. Hope you enjoy your cotton candy.
    YES! I am so ready for more Ed Wright.
  • deerosa
    saw it last night, I can't believe I watched a movie that actually lived up to the buzz and hype. Edgar Wright's masterpiece!
  • CyraNOSE
    The trailer alone made me throw up in my own mouth.




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