There is a contagious energy that permeates from the nonstop engine that is Baby Driver. After the first minute, it goes from zero to one hundred as it gives the audience a small taste of what we should expect in the rest of the film. There is a steady escalation in Edgar Wright’s cinematic style to the point of becoming a point of reference when describing techniques used in other films. One of the most notable Wrightian techniques that can be seen in every single one of his films is powerful action sequences synchronized perfectly to popular music. Wright has been slowly perfecting this technique and it has culminated into the fluid, fantastic film Baby Driver.
More than a music video, Wright transforms this film into a moving work of art. Everything is so thoughtfully calculated and done so effortlessly that it flows seamlessly without ever feeling forced. Every scene is made more enthralling because of the long takes that meticulously follow the characters movement making sure we don’t miss a moment. Imagine if OK Go videos were full-length films and you’ve only cracked half the technical excitement inside of Baby Driver. The 80’s aesthetic that Wright is channeling extends far beyond just some of the song choices. It permeates from every choice in sets design, car models, wardrobe and even the characters. True to the color palette of the decades the film is paying homage to, every aspect of the film is vibrant. The colors pop and draw us into the film like moths to a very inviting flame.
The beauty of the film isn’t just in the physical pieces, but in how Wright uses them in a complex ballet of moving parts to tell the story. This includes the often comical interactions with characters that are themselves semi-anachronistic archetypes of films past. We have the Bonny and Clyde duo working with the mercurial, unhinged gangster and the mob boss in businessman skin. There’s even the misunderstood hero with a rough past falling for someone whose speed is the opposite of his own. The great unifying force that brings Baby Driver together goes beyond the way they interact with each other and includes how they interact with their surroundings.
In the past, Wright has always included a core theme into his films that everything else revolves around. This time it isn’t zombies, aliens or even a cabal of evil exes, but something more relatable: moving music and fast cars. We’ve all been in the car when our favorite song comes on and we can’t help but loudly belt it out while doing some very misguided form of choreography when you probably have both hands on the wheel. Or maybe it’s just me? Either way, use that image and increase it exponentially.The film’s choreography and car-eography (what I lovingly call car movements set to music, duh) treats every object, including the cars, as a sort of character or an extension of their expression. Every action is synchronized to create a perfect punctuation for that scene. Every song choice mirrors and embodies the emotion of the moment.
When it comes to casting, Edgar Wright makes some bold choices that may outwardly appear to be conflicts but end up working better than we could have ever imagined. The biggest risk Wright took this time around was straying away from a heavy comedy dynamic and trying his hand at more of a drama, crime-thriller with small flairs of comedy. Different tones require a different set of actors and the likes of Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Lily James, Eiza González, Jon Bernthal, and Kevin Spacey all deliver. The roles individually are completely cliched, but when used as an ensemble they create something new and dangerously entertaining that blends the best aspects from several decades of film. The biggest surprise and most questionable part of the film is the casting of Ansel Elgort, whose lackluster roles in tween schlock had all but tainted him for me. Like his character Baby, Elgort is given his biggest challenge and rises to the occasion just as Wright knew he would. We see Elgort finally show us his range and it leaves us wanting more.
I will always admire a filmmaker who won’t just stick to what they know they are good at but who will go outside of their comfort zone and try something new. Edgar Wright has always been one of those filmmakers, and he could’ve coasted on comedy but instead decided to take a risk and deliver a film we didn’t know we needed. Baby Driver is hopefully the first in a long line of even more experimental films from accomplished auteur Edgar Wright.
This is a reprint from 2017’s SXSW. To read more SXSW coverage, click here.