Baby Driver Review [SXSW 2017]

Matt Donato

Reviewed by:
On March 12, 2017
Last modified:March 13, 2017


Baby Driver proves why we should never doubt Edgar Wright's vision, because few filmmakers can back their ambition with such quality thrills.

Baby Driver Review [SXSW 2017]

To achieve success (no matter your profession), one must stand out from the crowd. No filmmaker understands this better than Edgar Wright. His movies take on this life of their own, defined by calculated ingenuity. A booze soaked sci-fi invasion? Easy. A satirical zombie homage? Try overnight classic. Wright doesn’t just play in a sandbox, he creates living, breathing worlds out of lines in the sand – but even for Mr. Wright, Baby Diver boasts ambition at irreplicable volumes.

Ansel Elgort leads Wright’s action-comedy-heist as Baby, a getaway driver who suffers from tinnitus (a ringing noise only Baby can hear). This leads to constant iPod usage that keeps him focused (distracted), which Wright cues every single movement in Baby Driver to. Yes, you read correctly. We watch Baby Driver from Elgort’s perspective, where actions are fluidly choreographed to whatever track he’s currently blasting. Gunshots match with bass drum beats. Graffitied lyrics scroll as Baby walks down crowded streets. Even the slightest steering wheel turn ties to Baby’s infectious inner-rhythms, grooving along with smash-and-grab subtlety.

Kevin Spacey co-stars as Doc, the mastermind behind a string of local robberies. He never works with the same team, except for Baby’s inclusion. No one drives faster, meaner or with more success than Baby (he’s dubbed Doc’s lucky charm). Whenever Doc calls, Baby drives around a new crew of thugs – but when he meets waitress Deborah (Lily James), priorities shift. Baby yearns to leave his life of crime in the dust, but Doc has other ideas. He blackmails Baby into a postal service scheme, along with some real bad guys and gals (Jon Hamm as Buddy, Jamie Foxx as Bats and Eiza González as Darling). With no choice, Baby gets back behind the wheel for one last ride – except this time, it’s on his terms.

There’s more drama caught in all the car chases and crescendos, but you’re here for a rubber-burning ballet. Wright marries sonic madness with fluid heist beauty, as actions run parallel with musical beats. Just think of your favorite action sequences, and the music that backs them. When movements align with tonal cues, a chill climbs up your spine, right? Now imagine an entire movie that strikes the same excitement.

An illegal gun trade goes up in smoke to tequila lyrics, while Wright solidifies the single-best usage of Focus’ “Hocus Pocus” in all of cinema. Because, why pick an easy song for your film’s climax? Where’s the challenge in that? Work the 70’s progressive yodel ballad with erratic tempo swings, and squash any mention of the word “gimmick.” Baby Driver delivers on concept, never buckling or opting for easy work-arounds (like, say, repetitive EDM spins).

Wright works with choreographer Ryan Heffington (of Sia’s “Chandelier” fame) to connect even the most insignificant detail – camera zooms, alarm sounds, sandwich making, street walking – with Baby’s earbuds. Slower scenes kick in something like The Commodore’s “Easy,” instilling a commitment to theatrical flow whether Baby’s punching gears or “chatting-up” Deborah. Wright dives head-first into Baby’s automotive overtaking from the opening scene (a robbery), but then Baby exits his red speedster, and music continues. He wanders down city streets and buys coffee, all while swinging around lightpoles and side-stepping like someone out of a Gene Kelly number. Same goes for his interactions with foster-father Joseph (CJ Jones). Heffington’s presence is felt even when characters are sitting at a diner table – synchronicity becomes language, not a kitchy supplement.

Wright’s attention to composed visual detail makes Baby Driver a full-throttle feast for the senses, but focus elsewhere spins familiar wheels. Characters are more defined by generic thug lines and flashy attire (Foxx’s “King” playing card shirt) than scripted outlining, as motivations sometimes sway. Baby’s accomplices are unexplored wild-cards, as talk about betrayal and backstabbing establishes tension that’s a bit flat and one-note. Similar establishment treads a few overlong scenes between Deborah and Baby, as they wax poetically about driving away together in the dead of night. It’s romantic, and Elgort wins charm points despite voicing few ideas, but there’s a slight imbalance between intensity and dramatics. Your favorite moments will always involve cars, drifting and Elgort’s infinite supply of sunglasses – too cool for school in the raddest, most rock ‘n roll way.

Elgort, a musician/DJ himself, establishes his more mix-tape happy take on Ryan Gosling’s “hero” from Drive. There’s more to his character (Baby) than wheelman skills. An opening “dance sequence” is enough to prove rhythmic prowess, as a confining driver’s seat becomes his stage. Head bops, tapping fingers, clutches, windshield wipers – some might comment how Baby Driver feels like an OK GO-inspired music video, but as a whole, zooming conflicts interlock like mechanical gears that churn in motion. Elgort chauffeurs us through hypnotizing displays of criminal calibration, running off energy emissions that spike an adrenaline high. Everyone has a song that psyches them up (“Brighton Rock,” for example), and that’s what Baby Driver‘s entire playlist feels like.

Supporting characters never fail, but we’re all just living in Baby’s world (including his cohorts). Foxx scores his thug-life appeal by killing in cold blood, Hamm and González smooch it up as deranged sweethearts, Spacey spouts suit-and-tie corruption – you know the types. They’re all fleshed-out – especially once Hamm is “unleashed” – but even romantic co-lead Lily James has trouble sharing Elgort’s spotlight. Interactions are set to the beat of Wright’s drum, and sometimes the quick-fire quips come too fast-and-furious for digestion. You might find yourself more taken by Heffington’s dancer influence, which is perfectly fine, but a little more character depth would have gone a long way.

Baby Driver is more than just another genre-bending brainchild. Techniques engage on levels that would drive less visionary creators mad, but Edgar Wright embraces the challenge. Pacing speeds with confidence, and blasts a frenetic tune that’ll delight more than action fans. An evolution of performance design never crumbles under the weight of precise rhythmic perfection. Satirical genre nudges still scream Wright’s signature sense of humor (Mike Myers masks, Spacey’s map-drawing pun, Jon Bernthal’s aggression), indulgent in their appreciation of cinematic influences. Elgort drives fast, but Wright impresses faster. Let’s just cool it with all the Drive meets La La Land hot takes before there’s no coming back…

Baby Driver Review [SXSW 2017]

Baby Driver proves why we should never doubt Edgar Wright's vision, because few filmmakers can back their ambition with such quality thrills.