Baby Driver (2017) (R)

This review contains SPOILERS!
To be in crime, we are told by hardened, trigger-happy robber Bats near the beginning of "Baby Driver", demands one be, in some part, a criminal.

"Baby Driver" is a movie about characters and choreography. It's a film composed around music, dedicated to rhythm, and centered around driving. The entire movie allows the audience to be a passenger of Edgar Wright's mammoth vehicle, whose calculated course is both unexpectedly deep and sensationally entertaining. Though "Baby Driver" features many set pieces and sequences that are spectacular and intense, its true strengths lie in its writing and its people.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is the driver. He works for a crime boss named Doc (Kevin Spacey) who sets up heists and robberies with small teams of notable criminals. Each job gets a new group of faces...except for Baby. He's always the driver. The lucky charm of the operation. With each new iteration the hardened criminals size him up and question him and his antics. The sunglasses, the silence, the earbuds. Each of these have their reasons and for each explanation the audience is given the ambient noise of the film is fleshed out even more. This is a film deeply committed to its sound, its rhythm, and its heart.

I know it sounds cliche. But a movie without a little dollop of sentimentality is a cold magic show, something akin to "Birdman". Yet with its heart,"Baby Driver" proves that it is much more than a flashy puzzle box or a movie built around its chase sequences.

Baby wants out. He's been working off a debt to Doc for a long time; but his time is coming to an end. He is told that after one last job, he will be done. This is perfect for him because he meets a lovely waitress at a local diner named Debora (Lily James). She's quirky and confident and the two make an immediate connection over their love of music.

A few cold characters stand in the way. One of them is Bats (Jaime Foxx). This is a man obsessed with the idea of himself. He is flashy in a way that is both dangerous and annoying. He says exactly what he thinks, or what he thinks the toughest version of himself would say. But he does not lack the muscle to back up his threats. He is one of the many that is skeptical of Baby's ability, which is shown first to the audience in the opening scene.

These chase sequences are more dances than elaborate "Bourne" moments. These are orchestrated chaos and impeccably precise. Every crash, gunshot, and siren is on beat. Baby's encompassing songs fill not only the audience's ears, but every facet of the film itself.

For a movie so impossible to separate from its rhythm and sound, it catches the audience by surprise to see a deaf man, Baby's foster father (CJ Jones), so close to the center of the movie. It's unexpected writing and it exemplifies what makes Edgar Wright such a powerful director. Because, after the movie is finished, it makes perfect sense and the idea of removing such a character would leave "Baby Driver" incomplete.

"Baby Driver" is filled with near perfect performances. Jaime Foxx is wily and dangerous. Kevin Spacey is cool and commanding. A most surprising Jon Hamm delivers an incredible performance and Lily James is charming and likable. The movie, as it should, belongs to Ansel Elgort as Baby. He's the perfect choice for the role and leaves behind all his teenage heartthrob cliches from "The Fault in Our Stars". This is the emergence of a "credible" artist, at least in the critical sphere.

Edgar Wright owes a lot to Martin Scorsese and pays homage to many of the director's trademark surprises and more importantly, his soundtracks. Even the name "Baby Driver" seems too similar to "Taxi Driver" to ignore; yet if anything "Baby Driver" is Wright's answer to "Drive". Nicolas Winding Refn's film touches on the same subject matter in some of the same ways (notably the idea of crime and the criminal as delivered by Bats) yet here Wright is far more clever and far more controlled on his approach.

Previously Edgar Wright was only known for comedies; but here he shows that he is one of the directors to watch. "Baby Driver" is brilliantly crafted, nuanced, and just a hell of a good movie. You should watch this on the big screen.

Score: ★★★★

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