Baby’s On Fire: Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver Reviewed

It's the hot tip to sweep the top spots, but does Edgar Wright's crime caper have what it takes? Ben Rabinovich is on the case

From Tarantino’s use of Stealer’s Wheel in Reservoir Dogs or ‘Hip To Be Square’ by Huey Lewis and the News in American Psycho to the iconic Tom Cruise dance to Bob Seger’s ‘Old Time Rock and Roll’ in Risky Business, the right song at the right time can imbue a scene with something extraordinary. It can even set the tone of the whole film: the horror of war in Apocalypse Now is brutally hammered home by Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’, while the reckless beat of Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust For Life’ sets the pace for Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting.


In Edgar Wright’s latest film, Baby Driver, Ansel Elgort’s Baby must have the right song for each moment of his life. As a getaway driver working for the enigmatic Doc (Kevin Spacey), Baby’s rhythm of life is set by songs like ‘Bellbottoms’ by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Queen’s ‘Brighton Rock’ – their frenetic beat helping him drive better and faster. As a young man desperately in love with Lily James’s waitress, Debora, Baby turns to the romantic tracks for guidance. No aspect of his life is without music. Even something as banal as walking down the street becomes a shuffle that wouldn’t be out of place in a musical.


This obsession with music turns what is essentially a run-of-the-mill heist/car flick into a quirky film, full of idiosyncratic characters who like to discuss deep cuts and underrated songs just as much as they like shooting guns and crashing cars. In typical Wright fashion, the film’s music doesn’t inform the action, but actually drives it. Jon Hamm’s rakish bank robber, Buddy, bonds with Baby over their mutual love of Queen; sparks fly between Debora and Baby when she introduces him to Carla Thomas’s ‘B-A-B-Y’; and Baby’s constant music listening draws the ire of Bats (Jamie Foxx) the self-proclaimed ‘crazy’ member of the gang.


The music even propels the action quite literally. Just as in the pub scene in Shaun of the Dead – when Shaun, Ed and Liz beat a zombie to the beat of ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ – the action in Baby Driver follows the beat of music. In one scene, Baby makes the robbers wait as he restarts a track on his iPod before pushing pedal to the metal; music literally comes before evading the authorities.


The reverence for music is by far the best thing about Baby Driver. Baby’s whole world is sound and music – a delightful irony given he has severe tinnitus and lives with an old deaf man. Baby is a quiet man operating in an incredibly loud and violent world. It’s interesting how the film explores these themes of sound and silence, the structured nature of music and the chaotic essence of violence. Is music an inspiration or a crutch for Baby? Does it help him function better in the world or does it just help him function full stop? He exhibits an incredibly varied and deep taste in music, yet pronounces T-Rex as Trex. Baby even pulls quotes from kids’ movies like Monsters Inc., and uses them in conversations almost as if he can’t extemporise and instead has to rely on what he thinks are tried and tested conversation beats.


However, just as Baby clumsily hits certain beats, frustratingly, so does the film. The romance with Debora never really sells. It moves faster than Baby racing away from the police. Foxx and Bernthal never really get enough time to really let their intensity rip, while Hamm’s Buddy seems to undergo an unbelievable character transformation – as does Doc for that matter.


In fact, the whole film gradually falls out of rhythm as it goes on. The precision and structure of the action and story early on gives way to meaningless action – faster cars crashing harder, big guns firing indiscriminately – propelled no longer by music but by chaos that seems to overwhelm Wright. It’s ironic that a film so focussed on the beat and rhythm of music goes on to become quite so messy in the final act. Action and explosions usurp music as the film’s metronome, crashing left and right and abandoning the precise beats set up earlier.


That’s not to say this undermines Baby Driver as a whole. It’s still a thoroughly enjoyable film with a killer soundtrack and strong performances.

And In many ways it’s a quintessential Wright creation – an incredibly offbeat film in a genre with the most familiar beats – which can never really be a bad thing.

Baby Driver is in cinemas now


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