Twenty-two Years ago, while sitting in the bedroom of his North London flat, Edgar wRIGHT HAD A LIGHTNING BOLT OF AN IDEA. lISTENING TO THE jON sPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION, AND SPECIFICALLY ALL FIVE MINUTES AND EIGHTEEN SECONDS OF THEIR SONG bELLBOTTOMS, HE HAD A THOUGHT: THIS WOULD MAKE A GREAT CAR CHASE SONG. ACTUALLY, A CAR CHASE SONG PLAYED INTO THE EARS OF A GETAWAY DRIVER WHO CAN’T DRIVE WITHOUT MUSIC.
It hummed under wright’s feet for nearly two decades, before becoming his fifth film and his first solo film as a writer and director. It became Baby Driver, one of the most utterly original films of the year. The extraordinary thing about Baby Driver is evidenced in the first minutes of the remarkable opening sequence. As Bellbottoms kicks in and Baby (Ansel Elgort) launches into an exquisitely choreographed, full-throttle car chase set-piece, it becomes apparent that this is not a film just set to music. to quote william bibbiani, “it uses music the way the rest of us use air.”
Baby is the man who marries the narrative to the beats – the young getaway driver who has worked for Atlanta crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) ever since he could see over the top of a steering wheel, paying off an old debt job by job. Baby’s an awkward fit into Doc’s crew (“Is he mental?”, Asks jon bernthal’s griff), managing incredible feats behind the wheel, but always with earbuds in, blasting whichever song he needs. At hime, he cares for his deaf “pops” and makes mixes of secret recordings of gang members. Nestled in the centre of his tape collection is one labelled “mom” and there, on the yellowing paper, lies the heart of Baby’s story – the loss of his mother.
Baby finally sees a future beyond this life when he meets someone who’s as real ti him as his mother was – waitress deborah (Lily James), who walks onto screen, and into his life, singing B-A-B-Y by carla thomas. In addition to music, they share the same thirsty desire to get the hell out of there – A plan derailed when Doc demands another job (“I said we were straight, but did you think we were done?”)
The only real flaw – and let’s deal with that right away – Lies with the almost Deborah. She’s the perfect outlet for Baby’s unspoken desires, but often has little agency of her own. there are tantalising glimpses of a backstory – empathising with Baby on being a carer – but the details are unspoken, the chance to add depth to her character lost. Poignantly, during a discussion that share her name, she says, “It’s not really about me”, and then later to Baby, “Every song is about you”. as they sit in the diner that his mum worked in, the Ipod she bought in his palm, you sense that this isn’t entirely about her either.
that said, the supporting cast of characters os one of the film’s biggest strengths. Spacey’s doc is full of menace, yet oddly paternal and gifted with the best one-liners (“He puts the asian in Home invasion”). partners in crime buddy and darling are played by jon hamm and eiza gonzalez to just the right side of cliched comedic perfection. Buddy’s an ex-wall street guy who ran off with his favourite stripper. they lightly kick the story along with a piece of exposition here are a moment of levity there, with Hamm turing in a third-act performance that is so wonderfully deranged you feel don draper spinning in the earth below his feet. Jamie foxx rounds it out as hard-nosed, nihilistic career thief Bats.
And what of baby? in the wrong hands, an accidental criminal with a dead mum, A HEARING PROBLEM AND A GOOD TWO-STEP WHICH COULD HAVE BEEN DRAWN CLUMSILY. bETWEEN WRIGHT’S FINGERS, HE’S CHARMING AND BEAUTIFULLY VULNERABLE. YOU KNOW IN YOUR STOMACH THAT THIS IS NO LIFE FOR HIM, KNOTS FORMING AS DOC SAYS OF THIS ONE LAST JOB: “so WHAT’S IT GOING TO BE? bEHIND THE WHEEL? oR IN A WHEELCHAIR?” aND SO KICKS OF THE GLORIOUS FINAL HOUR OF THE FILM – a HIGH-OCTANE, TIGHTLY CHOREOGRAPHED PERFECTION OF VIOLENCE, ACTION DRAMA AND, YES, LOVE. A HEADY, INTOXICATING COMBINATION THAT WRIGHT MANAGES TO GET JUST RIGHT.
bABY dRIVER IS AN AWE-INSPIRING PIECE OF FILM-MAKING FROM eDGAR wRIGHT THAT PLAYS OUT AS A GREAT HOLLYWOOD MUSICAL TOLD THROUGH THE LENS OF A CLASSIC ACTION THRILLER. SWEET, FUNNY AND UTTERLY ORIGINAL – YOU WON’T SEE A FILM LIKE IT THIS YEAR.
Box Office prediction: OW – $18m, d – $45M, I – $70M, W – $115