Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"Baby Driver": review

"Baby Driver" is a 2017 action-comedy-romance-thriller directed by Edgar Wright (of Cornetto Trilogy fame) and starring Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Eiza Gonz├ílez, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and Jon Bernthal (lately seen in Marvel's "The Punisher" TV series). Elgort plays a talented getaway driver nicknamed Baby. Baby has a black foster father named Joseph (CJ Jones), with whom Baby communicates via sign language. Joseph is confined to a wheelchair and has a reached a point in his life where Baby now takes care of him. Baby works for crime boss Doc (Spacey), who plans and executes a series of bank heists—always with a different team of robbers, but always with Baby as the driver. This shows us the degree to which Doc trusts Baby. Baby, meanwhile, stores his ever-growing pile of cash under the floorboards of Joseph's residence as Joseph looks on sadly.

Much of the movie is devoted, albeit implicitly, to the idea of burning off bad karma: Baby's foster dad thinks Baby should leave the criminal world he's in; Baby is fantastic at what he does, but he's also basically a good kid who could be aiming higher in life. On the other side is Doc, the devil on Baby's shoulder, promising Baby the high life if the young man continues to be Doc's driver. Baby works for Doc because he's indebted to him, but even after paying off his debt, Baby is still Doc's darling, and there are consequences to saying no to Doc. And even if Baby manages to free himself from Doc's clutches, there's still his criminal past to reckon with.

The main artistic conceit of "Baby Driver" is, as so many reviewers have already pointed out, that the movie is filmed in the syncopated manner of a music video. A series of songs provides a pulse-pounding soundtrack that defines the rhythm of the action, and this style works well for the several car chases that punctuate the movie. For all the action, though, there are frequent lulls, and these are necessary so as not to overload the audience's senses. Some of the car chases—especially the one at the beginning of the movie—showcase some truly amazing stunt driving on the level of "Ronin" or "The French Connection." Artistically speaking, the movie is fun to watch and very engaging.

As a noir-ish romance, the movie works fairly well, but the film fails to answer the question of how a basically good kid got roped into a life of crime to begin with. All we know of Baby is that he's got debts to pay, and that he wants out, especially after he falls in love with diner waitress Debora (Lily James). The other element that makes the movie work is the cast: Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx embody differing degrees of menace; Eiza González smoothly switches from feline grace to deadly fury. Kevin Spacey's Doc is strangely likable yet hard to read, which is, I think, the note that Spacey was going for. Doc ends up having more layers to him than seems obvious at first blush.

Wright doesn't build tension to Tarantino-ish levels, but he does film car chases expertly. While I didn't come away thinking that "Baby Driver" was the deepest of films, I thought it was entertaining enough. (I did, however, easily predict the death—and the manner of death—of one major character about a minute before it happened. While I got some satisfaction from detecting the telegraphed moment, I have to shake my finger at the director and screenwriter[s] for making the moment so obvious.) If you're in the mood for some watchable stunt driving with a bit of karmic metaphysics thrown in, this is your film.

1 comment:

John from Daejeon said...

"The Driver" just oozes cool while "Baby Driver" needs a bit more baby powder in comparison. I'm no fan of Ryan's, but he is "the driver" with a bit of help from Walter Hill and Isabelle Adjani.