Slick flick, killer sound­track

Edgar Wright’s get­away thriller is his best film in more than a decade, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS -

In the bravura open­ing se­quence to Edgar Wright’s best film in over a decade, the tit­u­lar Baby Driver (Ansel El­gort) trans­ports a party of bank rob­bers from the crime to a safe hide­out. There is in­evitable may­hem. But Baby is in con­trol through­out. He ap­pears to have scored re­al­ity to the beats of The Jon Spencer Blues Ex­plo­sion.

That band plays on his iPod (this is the first film to treat that item as vin­tage tech­nol­ogy) while he crashes his way across free­ways and through al­ley­ways. Ev­ery swerve of the wheel seems part of a pre­or­dained plan.

Wright di­rects as Baby drives. Since his in­flu­en­tial Shaun of the Dead, the West Coun­try film-maker has been im­pos­ing rig­or­ous con­trol on comic ac­tion. His ki­netic pans are one trade­mark. His rapid mon­tage is an­other. For the first 70 min­utes or so, Wright is more rig­or­ously in charge than ever be­fore. Baby Driver comes across like Grand Theft Auto (the game, not the film) as di­rected by Stan­ley Do­nen. It’s that much fun. It has that much pro­fun­dity.

You could call Baby Driver a mu­si­cal. You could call it that be­cause vir­tu­ally ev­ery scene is chore­ographed to a crack­ing tune: Jonathan Rich­man, Dave Brubeck, T Rex, The Com­modores. (In an ap­par­ent Easter Egg for older mu­sic lovers, the sound­track jux­ta­poses the two big­gest Dutch hits of the 1970s: Fo­cus’s Ho­cus Pocus and Golden Ear­ring’s Radar Love.) A bet­ter rea­son to call Baby Driver a mu­si­cal is that it moves and breathes so very like one. An early sashay down an At­lanta street has all the swish grace of Gene Kelly’s Amer­i­can in Paris.

So much pre-de­ter­mined style could be­come arch and grat­ing. But it tran­spires that Wright is at his best when most be­ing him­self. A wel­come strip­ping down has oc­curred since his last two projects. The over­com­pli­cated plot­ting of the too-cute, too-smug Scott Pil­grim Vs The World is nowhere in ev­i­dence. The pre­ma­ture midlife cri­sis that coloured the in­suf­fer­able The World’s End seems to have been ti­died away.

Baby Driver is not short of backstory – Baby’s ad­dic­tion to mu­sic stems from a need to over­come tin­ni­tus – but the outer nar­ra­tive is ad­mirably un­fussy. The pro­tag­o­nist owes money to a wry hood­lum (Kevin Spacey in third gear) and must com­plete a num­ber of jobs be­fore he is set free. His col­leagues turn out to be wor­ri­some in dif­fer­ent ways: Jon Hamm is sleazy; Jamie Foxx is venge­ful; Eiza González is volatile. In short, Wright’s film, for most of its du­ra­tion, finds a de­li­ciously con­vo­luted way of do­ing some­thing very sim­ple.

A cameo by Wal­ter Hill in­evitably points us to that di­rec­tor’s time­less 1978 film The Driver. But, though the plots are sim­i­lar, the style of Baby Driver could hardly be more dif­fer­ent to that of Hill’s som­bre, enig­matic paean to Jean-Pierre Melville. Wright’s joint is hot, self-con­scious and ut­terly hol­low. Lily James, fine as the wait­ress Baby loves, is of­fered lit­tle more char­ac­ter than we find on the bones of cut-se­quence vic­tims in Grand Theft Auto. El­gort, a clever ac­tor of the preppy school, makes an im­mac­u­late, pretty doll of the hand­some hero.

For all its emo­tional arid­ity, Baby Driver is, while Wright im­poses his will fully, an im­pres­sively slick and imag­i­na­tive achieve­ment. Lis­ten for the nearly sub-sonic echoes of Baby’s tin­ni­tus that play when the mu­sic dies down. Ob­serve the im­mac­u­late colour pal­ette in ev­ery scene.

Un­for­tu­nately, in the fi­nal 20 min­utes or so, the di­rec­tor’s hand slips off the tiller and the pic­ture falls into more con­ven­tional schools of cin­e­matic chaos. The Fi­nal Boss (in video game terms) is a bit of a bore and the cli­mac­tic chase can’t quite equal the open­ing spec­tac­u­lar.

Still pretty spiff­ing.

Playlist heist Jamie Foxx and Ansel El­gort in Baby Driver

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