Edgar Wright’s latest film is a fast-paced, high-octane action thriller which manages to serve up humour and romance to the pulse of a chic soundtrack.
Set in Atlanta, Georgia, the story follows talented getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) working under the shadowy, suave Doc (Kevin Spacey), a kingpin who uses his protégé’s past misdemeanours to leverage his employment in heists and robberies. He continuously reminds Baby of the consequences should he leave before his contract is up – of his choice to be “either behind a wheel or in a wheelchair” – but things are thrown into disarray when the young driver meets Debora (Lily James), a diner waitress. Trying to stop his professional life from meeting his personal one, it’s inevitable that the two clash.
Baby Driver seems to represent the director’s ability to effortlessly tread between parody and action-thriller.
Despite how simplistic the plot might appear to be, the world and characters which Wright crafts in under two hours leave you surprisingly moved by the end. It represents the director’s maturing from a reputation built up by the thriller-parodies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Even with undercurrents of humour still pervading the film at its more serious moments, Wright is adamant that his latest film is not a comedy, allowing it to maintain darker themes without having them thrown off by the one-liners and hilarious back-and-forths between his characters. Adding pop culture references in – with Fight Club clips on television screens and an argument over Mike Myers masks used in a heist – and Baby Driver seems to represent the director’s ability to effortlessly tread between parody and action-thriller.
But whether in slick action sequences or smoother, single-take shots, most scenes are carried out to the rhythm of the film’s substantial playlist. As Wright pointed out in an interview with KPCC, it’s a project whose music selection predated the script, with many of the tracks being of sentimental importance to the director throughout his own life.
The whole world runs to Baby’s tempo: even the laundrette washing machines cycle through their tasks in perfect co-ordination.
Baby Driver plays upon the same themes of musical nostalgia which made Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel so wildly successful. Indeed, with the second installation of the Marvel franchise released only months ago, Wright was so concerned with accidentally using the same music that he texted its director James Gunn in a panic (and to the relief of both parties, it turned out there was no crossover). Wright’s carefully-curated list of retro tracks – which are sure to contribute to the re-emergence of more than a few artists unknown to younger generations – arc across the entire film. More than a backdrop, it becomes an integral part of the plot. Baby is introduced to Debora through B-A-B-Y, whilst another heist is wryly conducted to Nowhere to Run. The whole world runs to Baby’s tempo: even the laundrette washing machines cycle through their tasks in perfect co-ordination.
Whether mouthing the words to a song in the middle of a heist or using quips from other crew members to create his own soundtracks, we quickly find that the main character’s relationship with his iPod and dictaphone is far more stable than the one he shares with those he works with. At times though, the music serves to block out more than Baby’s “hum in the drum” – Doc’s terming for his driver’s reliance on music – with much of the feeling of danger softened in favour of keeping in time to the playlist.
A bittersweet love story to prove that no matter how far we try to run from responsibility, in the end we all have to face the music.
Don’t get me wrong; watching explosions of bullets and beats to The Champs’ Tequila is nothing short of summer blockbuster magic, but occasionally it downplays the full effect of the onscreen violence. Whilst clipped, fast-paced chase scenes were a mainstay of Wright’s earlier films, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that the action sequences here subsequently play out like intermittent trailers before further plot exposition between Baby and Debora. But these points of criticism are minor and few, as the final product is so undeniably polished that it cannot be faulted for not having its own unique style. Woven between the action, the guns, the car chases and the soundtrack is a bittersweet love story to prove that no matter how far we try to run from responsibility, in the end we all have to face the music. If you see one film this summer, make sure it’s this one.
Image: Sony Images Publicity