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Review: "Baby Driver"

by Chris Feil

Edgar Wright is back in action movie mode for Baby Driver, a crime caper just slightly enough on the offbeat side enough to stand out among the summer franchise entries. Ansel Elgort stars as Baby (no, seriously), a iPod-attached getaway driver wrapping up an undefined debt to his somewhat paternal boss Doc (Kevin Spacey). There is Wright-ian wit to spare in the set pieces and characterizations as Baby wraps up his final mission and falls for waitress Debora (Lily James), but Driver is also his messiest. With a solid supporting ensemble that features a delightfully unhinged Jamie Foxx and Spacey on his more understated side of hammy, the film is nevertheless a great launching pad for Ansel Elgort as a multitalented leading man.

While the film is as lively as anything else Edgar Wright has done, it is also his most anonymous. With all the scattered pacing and barrage of images thrown at the audience, there is not much point of view to the action or confidence in its ability to thrill us without breaking our necks. Here Wright trades in his emphasis on connection and relationships for a loud pastiche, missing the heart that has made his previous rounds of cinematic anarchy so memorable. Driver is less precise and more surface, without much  of a human entry point to make this fit in with his stronger work. For a film that desperately throws everything on that screen, it leaves you wanting quite a bit more.

The film at least comes with good intentions, so its not the kind of cynical chore you might expect. The action is fully realized with seemingly few CGI bells and whistles, so its rooted in some semblance of reality to balance out Wright’s verbal and physical outlandishness. Had it been more controlled in its freneticism, you might get to actually feel more of its unfussy rush and wit.

Much will be made of the film’s literally non-stop soundtrack. But even the music cues feel labored, an attempt to stamp the film with an air of cool that feels mannered no matter how much it clearly comes from a place of love. The sheer endlessness of the songs in the film kills its own intended effect - rather than flashes of inspiration, it eventually fades into this loud and busy tapestry.

Driver’s biggest delight is Baby himself - Ansel Elgort maximizes his matinee idol cache here in a role that allows him to charm the house down with sweetness, stoicism, and the odd dance routine or two. Wright’s protagonists are often his least interesting characters, but Elgort’s is compelling in both his physicality and nuanced tension. We will see how far out he might be from superstardom, but a significant musical role can’t be far off with moves like these.

The real chutzpah can be found in some early tracking shots where Wright and Elgort get to really shine in this heightened reality, with slinky choreography and popping visual charisma. Here Wright effectively gets at both who Baby is and what his film aspires to be, in both establishing this original enigmatic hero and its soulful musical identity. This breezy confidence holds all of the films blended genres in a more rewarding way than all of the bluster surrounding it.

Grade: C

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Reader Comments (16)

This sort of premise,cast and vibe is the kind of film I can't get into and Jamie Foxx was terrible on UK TV last Friday night,made me like him even less than I do.

June 28, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

I just hope Ansel Elgort never reaches superstardom. He is like almost every new star of this decade : mediocre, untalented, semi-charismatic + he doesn't have that drop dead gorgeousness that superstars used to have. Every odd-looking little thing that gets to wear stylish clothes is considered beautiful and a good actor these days.

June 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNO.

Please tell me someone utters the line: NOBODY PUTS BABY IN A CORNER in this!!

June 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDAVID

I had SUCH A BLAST at this movie. I am alarmed at your "C". I want to watch it again right now,

June 28, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

No mention of Jon Hamm at all?

June 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

This review is shockingly low on this stunning film. I am not typically a car chase movie fan and this absolutely blew me away. Edgar Wright's best work to date, and to me that's saying something. I'd strongly recommend people check this one out.

June 28, 2017 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

eurocheese -- i loved it too. My only real gripes are two: it does start to wear out its welcome in the final heist gone sour madness (which seems to take up 40 minutes of screentime or something) and the female characters are total ciphers. But otherwise it was so freaking fun and stylish.

June 28, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

The director said that Meryl Streep is in this film - on a TV playing in the background? I hate to say it but Jamie Fox + Kevin Spacey = No way I would pay to see this. Maybe I would watch it for free on a plane.

June 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDuncan

A C???? Anonymous film making? I haven't disagreed with a review in such a long time. It's last act is a little messy but it converted me into an Elgort believer.

June 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Rech

Andrew - I stand by it. With the exception of the tracking shots I mentioned (the beginning dance number and the garbage dump scene particularly) it felt like it could have been any person's movie. And I like Edgar Wright quite a bit.

Suzanne - not a fan of his work here.

June 28, 2017 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

I had a mixed response to the movie as well - I can tell it's technically accomplished, but it's much slower and more serious than I expected. This is Wright's first movie that feels like it takes place in the real world, which makes the extreme violence kind of upsetting. Without a genre frame or a cartoon wit to it, the action feels brutal and, crucially, at odds with what the film asks us to believe about its protagonist.

June 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

@Chris Feil What Hollywood is this where Baby Driver could pass for Anon filmmaking? If only we were so lucky!

Echoing the disbelief at the low score here. It should ended a little sooner (Hamm escaped death too many times) but certainly a very enjoyable 2 hours spent!

June 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJohnny

I was thoroughly impressed with the mash up of music to movement to editing. It was a technical feat.

Plot points could have used some more originality, and the women are... yeah, just there.

But I enjoyed it immensely.

July 11, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

Jon Hamm stole the show and gave the kind of performance that could get him to an Oscar nomination if the Academy is in its "Downey Jr in Tropic Thunder" or "Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids" mood.

July 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterClement_Paris

"critics" who don't get this movie are the worst.

November 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterS

Anyone wanna be like Baby driver while driving. Check out this cool Baby driver jacket

December 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterScotty

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