When Edgar Wright makes a film, he doesn’t seem too interested in challenging thinking or breaking ground. He is a film lover who uses what he has enjoyed in his viewings to make films that honour the past while still remaining fresh and modern. But more than anything, he likes to make films that are fun. With Baby Driver, Wright is back in form and displaying all the best he has to offer.
The story here is not a strong point. Baby (Ansel Elgort) is an orphaned young man who is used by heist kingpin Doc (Kevin Spacey) as a getaway driver due to his godly ability behind a wheel. Baby owed Doc for a past misdemeanor and has been paying off his debt with his driving talent ever since. Baby, quickly established as a good kid in a bad situation, wants out, and Debora (Lily James), the lovely waitress at his local diner, is the catalyst that inspires him to break the shackles.
Along the way he encounters the who’s who of Atlanta’s criminal underworld, because as Doc makes clear, he never uses the exact same crew twice, with Baby’s involvement being the obvious exception. Among them, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm and in just 2 scenes, Jon Bernthal, make the most of their supporting roles. Foxx’s self-proclaimed unhinged, trigger-happy Bats is the most colourful of the criminals. Foxx relishes a chance to WHAT a stereotype and is given free reign to have a bit of fun. Hamm, one half of a Bonnie and Clyde wannabe couple, is solid early but gets a fair bit more to do during the third act and pulls it off nicely. Bernthal is in and out of the film in no time, but uses his now customary intensity to make his time count. Spacey too, fares well with some decent material.
The female characters don’t fare quite so well. Hamm’s Bonnie, Eiza Gonzalez, is given little more to do than deliver some hammy material and look good. James is quite good, completely endearing and alluring and believable as a girl who would take the sort of risks she takes. She also gets a chance to make an impact on the story besides just being the main character’s girl, but ultimately, it’s not a very memorable role.
Elgort is solid, which may not seem like much of a compliment, but he does what he needs to. Baby is sympathetic and affecting, providing the perfect audience surrogate amidst all the chaos that unfolds. A stronger actor may have made more of some of the weaker dialogue, but he is generally good and holds the film together well. But at the end of the day, the real star is Wright. This is his show and has his fingerprints all over it. Fast editing, obscure music choices, regular doses of humour, it is a Wright film through and through.
But it also bares the effects of Wright’s weaker points as well. The story contains a few surprises and isn’t hard to follow, but at the same time, it is a bit messy and you’re always pretty confident where it will end up. There is a heavy focus on the action and making it as vivid and exciting as possible, and it is done really well. Set pieces flow nicely and Baby’s driving is made to look like it is a superpower, and it is great fun to watch. But it is to the detriment of the story as Wright’s focus on making things look cool draws the audience’s focus away from the characters and subsequently can lessen the emotional impact.
As with a lot of underdog type action films, there is also the problem of the protagonist becoming too capable in the film’s final act. Not to give too much away, but Baby goes from being just a highly capable getaway driver who has never held a gun, to being able to capably handle some pretty full on situations with the skill of a pro. He doesn’t quite become the Terminator but his plot-induced accelerated development can be quite jarring.
So it’s far from a home run for Wright, but he has succeeded in making an engaging and seriously fun action film filled with enigmatic and entertaining characters. He’s never going to make a There Will Be Blood or The Shawshank Redemption, but if he churns out quality entertainment like this every couple of years, Wright will successfully be doing his part for film.