Director: Edgar Wright
Writer: Edgar Wright
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Bernthal, Eiza Gonzalez, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx
Genre: Action & Adventure
Wes Anderson. Quentin Tarantino. Martin Scorsese. Besides the obvious that these are three of the best directors of the last 50 years, what else do they share in common? They all know how to successfully incorporate music into their films. This talent teeters much more on a fine line than people may think. While I’m sure having too little music in films can be a problem, it’s normally an issue of excess. The most recent failure in this area was Suicide Squad. Instead of using music to emote feelings or to forward the plot, it’s used to make a two hour music video. The only person who can make two hour music videos is Michael Jackson…and he’s the king for a reason. Edgar Wright now joins the elite group of filmmakers with his absolutely brilliant and breathtaking musical journey that is Baby Driver.
Violence/Scary Images: We see a dead body in a trunk with a gunshot wound. Several characters get shot in a gun fight with blood spurting from gunshot wounds. A character is run over by a car multiple times. A character is impaled with bloody results although the camera doesn’t linger long.
Language/Crude Humor: About 20-30 uses of the f-word. Also frequent uses of sh**, g*d***, and b****.
Spiritual Content: None.
Sexual Content: A couple makes out in a few scenes.
Drug/Alcohol References: None.
Other Negative Content: The movie features several heists and involves characters with clearly low moral standards.
Positive Content: Baby has a big heart and cares deeply for those he loves and will do anything to protect them.
Every once in awhile, a film comes out that restores my faith in Hollywood. Nowadays, everything is a sequel or a reboot of a reboot of a reboot. Enter Edgar Wright. He already has an established track record with his Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, At World’s End). Like his previous works, his new film is so uniquely and originally crafted that it hearkens back to Hollywood’s Golden Age. Going in, I was curious to see in what genre he would keep the film; the aforementioned Cornetto trilogy are all very specific genre movies (zombie, action, sci-fi). They each stay in their respective genre lanes while still poking fun at what makes them so popular. I suppose Baby Driver could fit into the heist genre, but it would be a huge disservice to put it into any kind of box.
Another mark of a truly great filmmaker is found in how they begin their films. A less talented filmmaker will spend the first third introducing us to characters while a more talented director puts us right into the action and lets the characters develop organically. Less contrived and more natural, it creates a world that feels lived-in with characters who are real. This movie opens in the beginning stages of a heist . We are almost immediately introduced to the protagonist, Baby, who is the get away driver.
This titular character is the catalyst for many of the twists and turns throughout the runtime. As more heists occur, we’re introduced to more zany characters with backstabs and betrayals along the way. It’s all fairly standard heist movie cliches. But this movie is more interested in pealing back the layers of who this Baby is and what motivates him. More than any of its other parts, it’s a character study of Baby. Early on, it becomes apparent that our protagonist has a special relationship to music. It isn’t until later we find out he uses it to drown out the tinnitus (the constant hearing of noise when none is actually present) he was left with from an accident in his youth.
The director cleverly created this plotline to give a reason and motivation for the incessant music throughout the movie. The movie’s soundtrack runs for 1 hour and 42 minutes while the film clocks in at 1 hour and 53 minutes. But instead of being a distraction, the music itself becomes a character. As discussed earlier, it is used to forward the plot in ways that I have yet to see in a film. Being unable to drive away from a bank heist gone wrong until he can rewind to the appropriate part of the song is just one instance of the music being used as a plot device. Seemingly every action done in the movie goes along to the rhythm of whatever song is playing. A simple gunfight takes on a whole new meaning and sense of excitement when it’s being shot (literally) in step with the song “Tequila” or “Brighton Rock” by Queen. Edgar Wright makes it so that music and the action are no longer mutually exclusive.
A huge risk is taken when a director chooses the soundtrack to his movie before he even has a movie. James Gunn successfully did it with Guardians of the Galaxy, and I’m glad to say that Edgar Wright succeeds as well. The familiarity, or lack thereof, of the soundtrack is the driving force behind its success. How many movies of the last five years are guilty of the ubiquitous use of a Kanye West song or how many Vietnam War movies are culpable for using “Fortunate Son?”
Wright instead chooses to use the lesser heard hits of years gone by that will now gain a whole new appreciation way past their expiration dates. From unknown songs by unknown artists (“Smokey Joe’s La La” by Googie Rene, “Unsquare Dance” by The Dave Brubeck Quartet) to the unknown songs by known artists (“Debra” by Beck, “Know How” by Young MC, “Brighton Rock” by Queen) and the occasional known song covered by the unknown artist (“Tequila” by Button Down Brass), this soundtrack is phenomenal. I have had it on repeat since it came out a week before the movie and will continue to do so now that I can replay the movie right along with the songs.
Movies are usually seen from the perspective of one central or main character. This makes it easier to empathize with said characters since we’re being prodded to feel the same things that they are. But what if instead, we saw and more importantly heard the movie from a character’s perspective? Baby Driver, in a more successful way than I could’ve imagined, accomplishes this feat with flying colors. Wright taps into a primal relationship that humans have always had with music. Working out, driving, crying, and doing chores all evoke different emotions that bleed into our choice of music. Just like the titular Baby, we have all played DJ to our life’s soundtrack, selecting whichever song most fits our mood or situation. I’m sure we’re all guilty of mouthing along to our favorite song so enraptured that we don’t notice the strange looks we receive.
Although most of the runtime is focused on Baby, this movie also boasts some great characters provided by Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, and Jamie Foxx. During his time as Frank Underwood on Netflix’s House of Cards, Spacey has further perfected the charming villain who may not actually be a villain character arch. In Baby Driver, his nuanced performance gives Baby a mentor of sorts who keeps us guessing as to his motivation until the very end.
Along the lines of Spacey’s character, Hamm also plays a charming villain-like henchman who can go either way. By making all the characters as charming as they are, it’s hard to dislike any one of them. More than Spacey or Hamm though, Foxx gets the juiciest character to dive into. From his earlier roles like Willie Beamen in Any Given Sunday, Foxx is at his best when he gets to be Jamie Foxx. Funny and charming with a little bite, his character is easily the most entertaining next to Baby and also gets to make bold choices that narrate the direction of the movie.
Whether we admit it or not, music plays a huge role in our lives. While driving to work or grabbing a cup of coffee, it’s always there. Sometimes when life is overwhelming, we turn to our favorite song to change our mood or instead we may further feed whatever mood we are in. In ways, music is a crutch for Baby, but more importantly, it’s a part of who he is. He can’t function without it. Life would be less colorful and less meaningful without the exact right song for the exact right moment. Ultimately, this is a movie about being driven by music.
The Bottom Line