Every once in a while an action film comes along that pleasantly surprises you in a genre crowded by imitators. The last time I was bowled over like this was by the neo-noir thriller John Wick (2014). Granted, as a car chase/heist film, Baby Driver belongs to a different subgenre, but like John Wick it impresses thanks to beautifully choreographed action, superb sound editing, gorgeously stylish visuals and competent storytelling.
The film is about a highly-skilled young driver named Baby, who is played in an engaging performance that effectively ranges from humorous to quietly intense by Ansel Elgort. On a side note, I would never have guessed that one of the year’s best action films would be headlined by the young lead of the tragic romantic drama, The Fault in Our Stars (2014).
When it comes to flair, Baby Driver has plenty of gas in the tank
One of the more special aspects of the filmmaking here is tied in closely with the plot. At a young age, Baby witnessed a tragedy that left him an orphan and suffering with a severe case of Tinnitus. We soon learn that Baby is a person of few words, at least initially, and that he carries a collection of iPods, all stocked with a large library of songs, to suit his moods and drown out the ringing noise in his ears.
Much of Baby Driver features the old-school rock music its hero is listening to. What makes Baby Driver often feel like a musical is that this music is more than just part of the soundtrack, but rather an actual artistic expression of the film thanks to the way it is edited.
Baby Driver boasts some of the best action scenes I’ve seen in recent memory, and perhaps some of the best car-chase scenes ever crafted. Aside from good old-fashioned stunt work from skilled drivers, what sets them apart is that they don’t feel overproduced. If there were CGI involved, it felt like it was employed sparingly, with the driving action speaking for itself. More importantly, unlike other car films, Baby Driver doesn’t overproduce its action with snappy editing, so while the rubber-burning sequences feel fast-paced, you can make out exactly what is happening on screen, as opposed to, say, a film from the Fast and the Furious or the Transformers franchise where it is often difficult to make head or tail of the chaos.
But let’s get back to the sound editing. The soundtrack here is more than just a soundtrack, but the heartbeat of the action. I kid you not. The film’s intense set-pieces are both choreographed and edited to flow with the beats and choruses of the songs. If you pay close attention you’ll be left floored by the immensely detailed work put in Baby Driver to flow in harmony with the sound. There even comes a point when the graffiti in the background seems to be in sync with the lyrics of a Rolling Stones number. If you are an audiophile, I highly recommend you hold on to your Sennheisers and pre-order the Baby Driver Blu-Ray.
Much of Baby Driver features the old-school rock music its hero is listening to. What makes Baby Driver often feel like a musical is that this music is more than just part of the soundtrack, but rather an actual artistic expression of the film thanks to editing.
In general, the supporting performances are excellent. Kevin Spacey is at the top of his game as a somewhat likeable crime boss who orchestrates the heists and manipulates Baby into doing his bidding. Both Jamie Fox (Leon “Bats” Jefferson III) as a menacing thug and Jon Hamm (Jason “Buddy” Van Horn) as a Wall Street trader-turned-robber have little in the way of characterisation, but are on fire thanks to their charismatic work. The weakest aspect of the film though is Baby’s relationship with waitress Debora (Lily James), who inexplicably puts herself at serious risk for a man she met recently. This, alongside a mechanical finale, somewhat weakens the film’s third act.
That being said, the film has plenty of gas in the tank as far as flair goes, which shouldn’t be surprising to fans of Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), whose work has often favoured style over substance. With Baby Driver though, he was clearly firing on all cylinders.
Rated R for violence and language throughout
Published in Dawn, ICON, July 9th, 2017