David Strat­ton

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

Baby Driver (MA15+) Na­tional re­lease from Thurs­day It Comes at Night (MA15+) Na­tional re­lease

The ti­tle of Bri­tish di­rec­tor Edgar Wright’s very en­ter­tain­ing new film, Baby Driver, is de­rived from a song fea­tured on the al­bum Bridge Over Trou­bled Wa­ter, recorded by Si­mon and Gar­funkel in 1970; we hear it at the end of the movie. Songs and mu­sic are, in fact, the driv­ing force be­hind the film as a whole — this is al­most a mu­si­cal. There’s an early se­quence in which Baby (Ansel El­gort), the young get­away driver at the cen­tre of the drama, walks, glides and pirou­ettes through the streets of At­lanta in time with the mu­sic play­ing on his iPad while the cam­era, in a sin­u­ous con­tin­u­ing take, fol­lows him as though wait­ing for him to launch out into song and dance a la La La Land. But all he’s do­ing is de­liv­er­ing four cups of cof­fee to his em­ployer, Doc (Kevin Spacey), and the two tough guys, Griff (Jon Bern­thal) and Buddy (Jon Hamm), and one tough gal, Dar­ling (Eiza Gon­za­lez), who just robbed the First Bank of At­lanta and for whom Baby was the get­away driver.

There is, of course, a back­story to all this. Baby as a child adored his mother (Sky Fer­reira), a singer with a sweet voice. But his par­ents were killed, and he was in­jured and scarred for life, when the car his mother was driv­ing col­lided with a truck on the free­way. As a re­sult he suf­fers from tin­ni­tus, which is why he’s al­most never with­out the ear buds that fill his world with mu­sic — much of it, as far as I could tell, not be­ing an ex­pert in this field, from the 80s — to drown out the buzzing noises in his head. Cared for by a deaf African-Amer­i­can foster fa­ther (CJ Jones), Baby, as he grew older, also be­came ob­sessed with driv­ing fast cars, which is how he came to the at­ten­tion of Doc, a master crim­i­nal and plan­ner of heists and rob­beries.

Baby wants to get out of the dan­ger­ous role of get­away driver be­cause he has met Deb­ora (Lily James), a wait­ress in Bo’s diner, an es­tab­lish­ment straight out of a Quentin Tarantino movie. He fell in love with her at first sight, when she was singing a song called B-A-B-Y, and the at­trac­tion is mu­tual. So Baby is very re­luc­tant to take part in Doc’s lat­est scheme, to rob a large post of­fice for which the gang, now also in­clud­ing the er­ratic Bats (Jamie Foxx), is is­sued with new, more lethal weaponry.

El­gort’s Baby is a thor­oughly en­dear­ing char­ac­ter who cre­ates his own songs by record­ing snatches of con­ver­sa­tions and adding rhythm and mu­sic. He just wants to get in a car and drive far away — as does Deb­ora. But, in Wright’s clev­erly worked-out screen­play, Deb­ora be­comes un­wit­tingly swept up in the may­hem that fol­lows that fi­nal rob­bery.

Wright, whose wicked sense of hu­mour was ev­i­dent in his Bri­tish films, Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World’s End (2013), seems com­pletely at home in this Amer­i­can set­ting. Baby Driver cheer­fully works on a great many lev­els, as a ba­sic heist/chase movie as well as a sweet ro­mance and some­thing more in­ter­est­ing in the way the mu­sic is in­te­grated into the ac­tion. The vil­lains are a colour­ful lot, with Spacey play­ing it cool but malev­o­lent, and Foxx, Hamm and Bern­thal be­ing ma­ni­a­cal and un­pre­dictable, while Gon­za­lez smartly por­trays the quin­tes­sen­tial gun-tot­ing beauty. There are plenty of jokes, too, like the cast­ing of song­writer Paul Wil­liams as the white-suited arms dealer who turns out to be an un­der­cover cop — and there are some sur­pris­ingly touch­ing mo­ments. Be­sides, Wright knows how to tighten the sus­pense screws when the need arises.

You could ar­gue Baby Driver is de­riv­a­tive, and Wright has ac­knowl­edged his debt to films such as Wal­ter Hill’s The Driver (1978) and nu­mer­ous car chase movies like The Blues Broth­ers (1980). The in­flu­ences are there, but Wright builds on and sub­verts them in his hugely en­ter- Baby Driver; It Comes tain­ing movie, one of the most sat­is­fy­ing films of its type to emerge in quite a while. It may sound like it, but It Comes at Night is not your tra­di­tional hor­ror movie. It could eas­ily have been a zom­bie movie, but writer-di­rec­tor Trey Ed­ward Schults and pro­ducer Joel Edger­ton were clearly aim­ing for some­thing less con­ven­tional and more unset­tling. After this and Lov­ing it’s clear Edger­ton is mak­ing in­ter­est­ing choices in the roles he se­lects to play.

The film opens with a dis­ori­ent­ing scene in which three people, un­recog­nis­able and al­most in­audi­ble thanks to the old-fash­ioned gas masks they are wear­ing, wheel an el­derly man (David Pendle­ton) with pro­nounced fa­cial and bod­ily sores into a wood and tip him into a grave. One of the trio shoots him in the head, and the body is burned. What on earth is go­ing on?

The three masked char­ac­ters turn out to be Paul (Edger­ton), his African-Amer­i­can wife, Sarah (Car­men Ejogo), and Travis (Kelvin Har­ri­son Jr), their 17-year-old son. The screen­play makes no com­ment on the mixed-race mar­riage, though the viewer may note that this is the se­cond re­cent film in which Edger­ton has played the hus­band of an African-Amer­i­can woman, Lov­ing be­ing the first.

The fam­ily are sur­vival­ists liv­ing in a sur­pris­ingly large house in an iso­lated part of a vast for­est. And they live in fear be­cause of some kind of un­ex­plained plague that has ap­par­ently over­taken the coun­try. Vic­tims come out in the kinds of sores we saw on the old man — who, it turns out, was Sarah’s fa­ther, Bud — and they vomit black gloopy stuff. Paul, heav­ily armed and ex­tremely cau­tious, is de­ter­mined to keep his fam­ily from be­ing con­tam­i­nated, and so they ven­ture out­side the house as lit­tle as pos­si­ble, al­ways ac­com­pa­nied by their dog, Stan­ley.

In­evitably their iso­la­tion comes to a pre­car­i­ous end with the ar­rival of Will (Christo­pher Ab­bott), who at­tempts to break into the house, be­liev­ing, he says, that it’s empty. He’s quickly over­pow­ered by Paul but he protests that he’s not a vic­tim of the plague and that he was only look­ing for sup­plies for his wife and child. Reluc­tantly, Paul agrees to take Will to the place where his fam­ily is hid­ing and, after sur­viv­ing an am­bush in the woods, the men re­turn with Will’s wife, Kim (Ri­ley Keough), and small son, An­drew (Grif­fin Robert Faulkner). The two fam­i­lies set­tle down into a some­what uneasy ex­er­cise in co­hab­i­ta­tion un­til, in­evitably, the threat re­turns. After all, as Paul says early on: “You can’t trust any­body but fam­ily.”

I haven’t seen Shults’s first fea­ture, Kr­isha, made last year, but on the ba­sis of this rather clever ex­er­cise in minimalist sus­pense he’s an in­ter­est­ing new tal­ent on the Amer­i­can in­de­pen­dent scene. He uses the cor­ri­dors and con­fines of the iso­lated house to cre­ate a sense of claus­tro­pho­bia and dread, and he gets ter­rific per­for­mances from his cast. There are no un­nec­es­sary ex­pla­na­tions as to the cause or ex­tent of the plague, and no back­sto­ries. It’s a sim­ple ex­er­cise in ter­ror that avoids too much ex­plicit vi­o­lence, and a qui­etly im­pres­sive lit­tle movie.

Jamie Foxx and Ansel El­gort, top, and El­gort with Kevin Spacey, above, in

Joel Edger­ton, above right, and Kelvin Har­ri­son Jr, below, in at Night

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