1 hour, 52 minutes
As I strode back to my car after leaving the theater showing “Baby Driver,” I could almost hear a propulsive soundtrack, the beat matching my stride, and I had to resist the urge to hop in the car and peal the tires on my way out of the parking lot. The fact that I drive a Prius made that part a little easier.
A well written, well executed movie can do that — make you think in the language of the characters, the world sticking with you well after the credits have rolled. Writer/director Edgar Wright’s movies are like that. For Wright, the timing is everything. In his movies the soundtrack is a supporting character, and it’s no wonder that the whole goes together like a two-hour song. And a kick-ass one at that.
“Baby Driver” is the story of Baby, a phenomenal get-away driver working off a debt to a ruthless, yet fatherly criminal named Doc, played by Kevin Spacey. Doc sets up the jobs, puts together a crew, and Baby drives. And man does he ever.
“Baby Driver” is good all the way through, but the explosive car chase at the film’s opening is a masterwork. Of course I enjoy movies — why would I do this job if I didn’t — but it’s rare that I find myself grinning from ear to ear, simply delighted with the cool up on the screen. I remember feeling that way during parts of “Mad Max – Fury Road,” and I felt that way within the first five minutes of “Baby Driver.”
The plot that Wright and co. set up is pretty basic. It’s your typical “one more job and you’re out” routine. What makes Baby unique, aside from his devilish skills behind the wheel, is his specific disability. Due to a terrible accident as a child, Baby has permanent tinnitus, a maddening ringing in his ears, which he drowns out with a constant stream of music played through an old-school iPod. This music forms the soundtrack to Baby’s life and the propulsive, emotional beat that Wright plays his story to, but the music, terrific as it is, is only window dressing.
What makes Baby special, and what is revealed gradually, is his vulnerability. Highly skilled and mostly silent, it’s easy to confuse Baby with fully capable adult, but he’s just a kid, one who’s in way over his head. Baby’s world turns upside down at the introduction of Debora, a waitress at Baby’s favorite diner, who enters the film singing “B-A-B-Y, Baby” softly under her breath and steals Baby’s heart forever.
Be prepared to fall in love with Debora yourself. Actress Lily James, who you might also know from “Downton Abbey” or “Cinderella” is absolutely perfect for this role. She draws a sharp contrast for Baby as to what life can be as opposed to what life is. With this first crack in his armor, Baby is about to find out the hard way what kind of people he is really working with.
It’s hard to overstate how much I enjoyed “Baby Driver.” It’s not perfect. Wright’s “Hot Fuzz,” “Shaun of the Dead” and “Scott Pilgrim” are each, in their ways, more polished films, but in those moments when it’s firing on all cylinders, “Baby” leaves them all in the dust. I think it’s because, in many ways, the movie feels like a song, or a poem — something deceptively simple yet complicated and interesting at the same time, all set to an infectious beat.
As I said, it has a few issues. The stylishness of the first two-thirds of the film kind of dies away, perhaps necessarily, in the last act, and the very end goes on far too long. Wright was obviously in love with his characters by the end, and had difficulty streamlining the denouement. I get it — I was in love with them too.
I was trying to think of a movie like “Baby Driver,” and while I’m sure there are plenty of musicals you could point to, “La La Land” being the most recent, plotwise I was reminded of Quentin Tarantino’s blood and cool soaked “True Romance.” Clarence and Alabama’s star-crossed affair has the same kind of timing, style, and life and death stakes that you find here.
The difference is probably the same as the actual difference between Tarantino and Edgar Wright. The characters, even the bad ones, in “Baby Driver” are just nicer.
Which is not to say that “Driver” doesn’t have an edge. The supporting cast, including Jon Hamm, John Bernthal, and Jamie Foxx are stellar and dangerous. But be that as it may, I want to spend more time with them. And once this film is available for purchase, I’m sure I will again. “Baby Driver” is the most fun I’ve had at the movies this year so far.
“Baby Driver” is rated R for language and violence.
Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.