Review: Baby Driver (2017)

Edgar Wright-isms that before had only lasted for seconds or frames, here blown up into a feature-length, non-Cornetto instalment.

Baby Driver had me at Edgar Wright X Blues Explosion – and, viewed purely on the level of feature-length music video, this film is genuinely thrilling, tense, and a lot of fun.

As discussed in this fantastic video essay from Every Frame A Painting, Edgar Wright often scripts and choreographs action to music:

Wright’s previous films used this technique only for specific scenes or bits – Baby Driver is a feature-length exploration of this technique. It’s an entire world of a film where everything from gunshots and button-pushes are in time with the drums of the song playing in the soundtrack, where in between trumpet-playing sight gags are more blink-and-you’ll-miss-them details, such as song lyrics written on walls, lamp posts and trees, or car horns sounding in perfect time and key. Even in between songs, the tinnitus note is always in the key of song it leads into, right from before film even begins. Thomas Flight breaks down the film’s opening scene:

It says so much about the calibre of Edgar Wright as a film maker that my main criticism of Baby Driver is in where it doesn’t match up to his previous films – the double-edged sword, perhaps, of rewarding a viewer’s close attention to those details means all aspects of the film will be closely scrutinised, even if some are not as masterfully refined as others.

Edgar Wright’s films, particularly his Cornetto Trilogy, are examples of masterfully tight film making: no element is introduced arbitrarily, every setup has a payoff, any and all opportunities for audiovisual synergy are exploited in the spirit of pure cinema, and there are always nods to other movies and pop culture references which often transcend merely being their own reward to informing character and story. Which is what makes the non sequiturs in Baby Driver stand out: loose threads may be common in films by other film makers, but they are uncharacteristic for an Edgar Wright film.

I’m not sure if the characters are underwritten, or if they’re supposed to be mere archetypes (despite the fact that Wright consulted with ex-cons during their development). Jon Hamm & Elza González vs Jamie Foxx vs John Bernthal vs Kevin Spacey (whose final turn makes little sense to me) are a League of Extraordinary Criminals from different crime genres bouncing off one another in a “Who’d win in a fight: Superman or The Hulk?” kind of way. Baby himself seems less like a person and more like a blank slate – at least, while yr in the movie; afterward, and no longer under the spell, it slowly dawns that Baby is just an angel-faced sociopath, a cross between Ryan Gosling in Drive and, well, Ryan Gosling in La La Land – or at best, as this deleted scene shows, a figment from a delightful dream world who has somehow crash-landed into a much grimmer, deadlier reality:

That reality is made all the more visceral by Edgar Wright’s approach to working with as little green-screen as possible: Baby Driver himself, Ansel Elgort, trained to become a stunt driver; the actual actors were shot in cars or “biscuit” rigs to capture their shots of really being thrown around inside the cars; and almost all of the car stunt work is done with real cars doing real (crazy) things – including the first “180-in, 180-out” manoeuvre to ever be captured on film:

Baby’s music making, and the quirky instruments he uses, is a whole potential subplot or character illustration that goes nowhere – and it’s odd to have any loose threads in an Edgar Wright movie at all, much less beats (pun half-intended?) which don’t pay off later. Curious as to what they might reveal about the character or the world of the story, I went hunting to find out what some of the instruments were – but if they are easter eggs, so far their significance escapes me:

Further Viewing

In Viewinder Film School, we take a look at the editing of “Baby Driver” – and what film makers who are just starting out can learn from the techniques used.

And here’s the music video for Blue Song ~ Mint Royale, starring Noel Fielding and directed by Edgar Wright, which Wright cites as the dry run for Baby Driver: