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