I think the easiest way to start a chat about Edgar Wright’s latest film, Baby Driver, is to watch the video he did a decade ago for Mint Royale’s Blue Song. This was the first run Wright had at his dream car chase film, something that had been on his mind for years. With the great chase films whirling around in his mind (as they do us all), like Walter Hill’s The Driver, John Landis’ The Blues Brothers and Richard C. Sarafian’s incredible Vanishing Point to name but three, Wright wanted to honour them and put his own, very singular, stamp on the genre. With Baby Driver he has crafted something special, his very own car chase musical.
Baby Driver opens in Atlanta, with a crew of bank robbers (Jon Hamm’s Buddy, Jon Bernthal’s Griff, Eiza Gonzalez’s Darling) and the titular driver, Ansel Elgort’s Baby, rolling up to the mark in a cherry red Impreza. The if you’ve watched the Blue Song video, you’ll know the basic setup for the scene. This time Wright’s car-confined-dance-number is to the tune of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms” and Elgort is rather more rhythmic than Noel Fielding. As Baby dances and sings away, in the background, stuff is getting real in the bank, but Baby is mostly oblivious, he knows his time is to come. The crew have their job to do, he has his. The alarms go, the crew jump in the car and Baby hits it.
What follows is a simply sumptuous car chase, perfectly timed and choreographed to the music and leaving you equally breathless and grinning like an idiot, or at least this idiot was. This almost ethereal joyous element to the opening flows into the rest of Act 1. The scene with Baby getting the coffee is Fred Astaire-esq, with Elgort dancing through town, weaving his way through people and effortlessly returning with the joe. This lightness starts to temper when you see Doc (Kevin Spacey) take Baby’s cut of the job. Baby is working off a debt, Doc has his marker and is wringing every cent out of him. Most off that is in the trailer, but needless to say, it is a superb opening. But as soon as this ends, the darkness begins to crawl in from the edges.
This is where the film really starts to stand up. Baby has found love, in the loveliness of Lily James’ Debora, and with that, his blinkers start to fall off. There are three main heists in the film, with each one getting significantly darker and more violent. He starts seeing the reality his driving is bringing to people, the fear, the pain and the wanton violence and death. What looks effortless and victimless in the opening chase, quickly degenerates into a reality Baby struggles to cope in with the easy malevolence of his crew. Jamie Foxx’s Bats adds an extra unpredictable edge that plunges the darkness deeper and brings the things Baby has been choosing to ignore right in front of him. Getting out with Debora, with both of them in one piece, takes over his will.
That darkness and accountability that Wright starts amping up from the end of the first set piece is a masterclass. Yes, there is a bit of waffle in the scenes between Elgort and James but that is mainly due to James’ Debora being a tad underwritten, the same could be said of Gonzalez’s Darling. But, after the lovely laundromat scene, we have the relationship set and Baby’s realisations on the job firming that feeling up. That small issue aside, Wright perfects the cost and accountability tone shift he did so well in his previous films, the Winchester scene in Shaun of the Dead being a perfect example of this.
In Baby Driver, all roads lead to the final escape attempt and the cost of getting in that car they can’t afford. With the carnage of the final act, I started to wonder which film from the chase lexicon Wright would end with, for a second I was convinced it would be Vanishing Point. Wright goes one better and ties the finale into lots of the little actions throughout the film that leaves you with a ending worthy of the film.
With Baby Driver, every one of the twenty odd years of work and playing around with his concept that Wright has laboured on it is clearly shown on the screen. The Cornetto Trilogy may be more fun and Scott Pilgrim is rather just special, but with Baby Driver, Wright has crafted his very best film. Very little of the screen is wasted and the way the film ramps itself up to 11 is as wonderful a ride as anything Baby could come up with. Now, if only the Challenger at the end had been white....
Baby Driver is released in the UK on Wednesday 28th June 2018.