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Josh Reviews Baby Driver!

I have enormous love for all of writer/director Edgar Wright’s collaborations with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, from their fantastic TV show Spaced to their trilogy of films Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End.  Though actually, I have to admit that my absolute favorite Edgar Wright film is his criminally underrated 2010 film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which I adore with all my heart.  That Edgar Wright has not directed a film since that 2010 release is a crime.  And so I was more than a little excited for his new film, Baby Driver.

The film does not disappoint.

The titular Baby Driver is played by Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars).  Baby is a young man who has found himself in the position of being a getaway driver for a cadre of criminals and reprobates.  He has tinnitus and is a great lover of music, so he is almost always listening to music on his ear buds as a way to drown out the ringing in his ears and, perhaps, to keep him safely isolated from the big bad world around him.  Baby’s float-through approach to his life is rattled when he meets and begins to fall in love with a young waitress named Debora (Lily James).  The two young lovebirds hatch a plan to leave town and the lives they hate, but Baby finds it harder than he expected to get out from under the thumb of the big bad men for whom he works.

Oh man did I love this movie!  Edgar Wright has concocted a fiercely entertaining rush of a film, with every instant of screen-time packed to the gills with great music, exciting action sequences, and witty dialogue.

Mr. Wright has assembled an incredible ensemble of actors for his film, and he rewards his cast by giving each one of them a ton of fun stuff to do, allowing them each to create extraordinarily memorable characters in whatever amount of time they have on-screen.

Kevin Spacey plays Doc, the man-with-the-plan who comes up with all the criminal schemes and assembles the team.  It’s a great role for Mr. Spacey, who is terrific at playing loquacious characters with an edge of danger.  Mr. Spacey also allows us a tiny glimpse at the beating heart beneath the polished facade, which only emphasizes Doc’s dangerousness.  Jon Hamm plays Buddy, the confident, smooth-with-the-ladies man of action.  It’s fun (and sort of endearing) to see Mr. Hamm try to play scruffy-looking.  Mr. Hamm’s performance is fun in the first half but really comes alive in the second half when his character is pushed into some tight corners.  Eiza González plays Darling, Buddy’s lover who seems to enjoy pitting men against one another.  Ms. González has great chemistry with Mr. Hamm and does a great job showing us the brick that Darling hides under her velvet glove.  Jon Bernthal plays Griff, a no-nonsense tough-guy right in Mr. Bernthal’s sweet-spot.  I enjoyed watching Mr. Bernthal’s character bounce off the other thugs on his team.  Jamie Foxx plays Bats, a slightly unhinged sociopath who seems to enjoy doing whatever he can to get a rise out of others.  Mr. Foxx’s smooth-as-silk delivery only enhances the character’s ready-to-spring-at-any-moment sense of violence and threat.  What a cast, huh??  Mr. Wright cast a phenomenally talented bunch, placed them in roles that played directly to their strengths, and then let them cut loose.

The film’s two young leads, Baby and Deborah, are significantly less-interesting when compared to that deranged pack of psychos and criminals played by the murders row of actors I just listed.  But this is a forgivable sin, and in some ways it feels that Mr. Wright has intentionally allowed his two young lovers to remain somewhat cypher-like as a way of giving the story a universality, allowing any audience-member to imagine him/her-self in one of those two leading roles.  While Ansel Elgort and Lily James might not play as interesting characters as any of those maniacs who surround them, I quite enjoyed both of their performaces in the film.  They do everything they have to do to play their roles and keep the story moving.  These aren’t showstopping roles, but they work, and in the end I was invested in their relationship.

Baby Driver reminds me in many ways of Quentin Tarantino’s film True Romance (directed by Tony Scott).  Both are violent and lyrical films with great soundtracks and exquisite dialogue that tell the story of two young lovers trying to find a way out of the world of crime that surrounds them.  This is a compliment, as True Romance is a fantastic film.

But Baby Driver is also very much its own thing, a gloriously unique piece of work that feels very much like it expresses all the things that Edgar Wright loves.  The film looks gorgeous, with some incredible imagery and strikingly-framed scenes.  The car-chase action in the film is quite extraordinary, visceral and thrilling.  And the way those action sequences are perfectly synced to the score (usually whatever song Baby is listening to at the time) is a work of genius.

The film’s score is magnificent, a marvelous array of music that comes together to create a distinct world and vibe for the film.  Baby’s identity is wrapped up in the music he listens to and the music he makes, and so too is Baby Driver the film completely of a piece with the music in its score.  The musical choices are central to everything about the film.  It’s an impressive acomplishment to witness.

I love how sharp the dialogue is, with a lot of great jokes and hard-boiled turns-of-phrase that reminded me of Mamet.  (“Shop, let’s talk it,” Kevin Spacey’s character declares in one memorable moment.)  The film is very intense and exciting, and also very funny.  This is a balancing act that Mr. Wright has always demonstrated in his films, all the way back since Shaun of the Dead.  It’s far harder to do than it seems, and it’s the key to why Mr. Wright’s films work as well as they do.

I loved every minute of Baby Driver and I can’t wait to see it again.  It’s a phenomenal blend of action and music and wonderful dialogue that comes together with the fevered intensity of the type of young-fools-in-love romance at its story’s center.  It burns hot and it burns fast.  I loved it, and I hope we don’t have to wait nearly as long before Mr. Wright’s next film!

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