Max Redmond Smith on Edgar Wright’s ‘Baby Driver’ (2017)
BABY IS IN A PICKLE. Protagonist Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a driver for heist operations, operations which are organised by Doc (Kevin Spacey), and carried out by a different team of criminals each time. However, Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza González), and Bats (Jamie Foxx) are noteworthy for being both reoccurring and integral characters. Now, back to that pickle. Baby owes Doc. Baby thinks that he is free after one more job. Baby is wrong.
Baby Driver is a playfully panache action film. Edgar Wright does not simply reinvent the action genre, he knows it well, and the film is founded on stock characters and plot. The panache comes from Wright’s ability to avoid simply inverting generic tropes; rather he subverts their authority by still following, but then exaggerating them—an ability that Wright has made seem effortless before, with Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) standing as fitting examples here. Wright has proven time and time again that tired genres can be rescued from the suffocating grip of contemporary blockbuster bludgeoning by affectionately parodying well-trodden tropes through both exaggeration and understatement as a way of generic self-reflexivity. As a result, one can sideline an all too predictable plot, and familiar archetypal characters for a thrilling stylistic joy ride courtesy of the cinematically well-versed Edgar Wright.
Baby Driver’s stunning musicality sets it above the output of pedal-to-the-metal action films in recent years, most obviously seen in the never-ending production line of ‘Fast and Furious’ films and other hackneyed franchises one has to endure every summer. Rather than attempt to up-the-ante when it comes to ridiculous spectacle, Wright has un-pimped his ride and stripped it back to exhilarating practical action that affectionately recalls the 70’s car movies and the tactility of velocity. Wright has created a genuinely entertaining film—an original breath of fresh air. Baby Driver feels like a two hour music video, and this is no complaint; musicality has always been latent within the genre, and Wright, in his manner, has merely exaggerated this trope – action sequences playing out in perfect harmony with Baby’s iPod. The sequences play service to the music, and the results are impressive. The film becomes a composition of moods, not scenes.
However, Baby Driver also feels like it’s got its safety belt firmly attached. While it’s in-camera choreography is undeniably impressive, achieved without the aid of green screens, the film runs the risk of banality when stripped of its soundtrack. It may seem unfair to criticise the film on these terms, considering it is essentially a musical – that’s its purpose for existence – but film is also a visual medium, and Wright’s usual penchant for outlandishness in all areas of production could have been amplified. Baby Driver is cruising too comfortably on the line between outlandish and banal, and this is not what film needs. Film should never be afraid of breaking the speed limit, even if this one comes joyfully close.