Baby Driver – Whatever the Heist, the Biggest Payoff is the Score

John Hamm and Jamie Foxx chew up the scenery in a movie that puts even the sound of a gunshot to work for the real star – the BGM

When writing about Baby Driver, giving away spoilers isn’t a major concern. Plot is as important to this movie as it is to a music video. That’s not to say it doesn’t crackle along or hold you to your seat, because it does. It’s got glorious chase sequences, lyrical (in parts) screenplay and some fantastic turns from John Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey and a feisty Eiza González. In fact, it’s just what the doctor ordered for Kevin Spacey as he recovers from his House of Cards hangover. But Hamm (Buddy) and Foxx (Bats) really dig in and make a meal of their lines.

“Do all your stories end up with someone dying?” Buddy asks. “I guess you’ll just have to find out,” says Bats. Trigger-happy and hyper-alert, Bats brings a manic energy into a milieu already fueled by adrenalin, coke and music. He doesn’t like Baby, the protagonist, and it’s not always easy to disagree with him. In the trailers, Ansel Elgort nails the character. He’s behind the wheel, making magic on the tarmac, as The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, well, explodes. He’s a wizard; he drifts, shifts and speeds his way through cop cars and glutinous civilian traffic until the crew’s out of harm’s way and riding off into robber’s sunset with a large load of dough. It’s when he gets off the vehicle that he begins to lose traction.

After losing his parents in an accident, a pre-teen Baby boosts the wrong car and becomes beholden to Doc (Kevin Spacey). Cut to present. He’s been paying off a 10-year debt, one heist at a time. For all that background trauma, Elgort can’t quite decide between asocial loner and suave mystery man. “Well, aren’t you mysterious,” Debora (love interest, a sweet Lily James) exclaims, and Baby says, “Maybe.” Reads nicely on paper, it’s just that Elgort comes off as a wannabe American super-spy. But things get better when he’s not talking. He could just be grooving to Debra (Midnite Vultures) around his wheelchair-bound foster father. Or he could be mashing up an original mix on tape from random stuff he records on his little cassette player. He looks great and moves well.

Director Edgar Wright brings a certain aesthetic sensibility, something distinct and independent of cultural or chronological points of reference. In other words, it isn’t an 80’s vibe or a rock n’ roll vibe. It’s juicy, evocative and has an almost synesthetic appeal. Baby Driver is bubble-gum flavoured petrol, compressed foam in a clenched fist, a tinnitus buzz that sounds like a bass guitar riff. From his oeuvre, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is another fine example of this sensibility. And Baby Driver is as much Wright’s movie as it is editor Paul Machliss’, who pulled of the marvelous feat of cutting action set pieces to out-of-the-box music. Only, in the case of Baby Driver, it’s the other way round. The visuals are the background. The music is what the filmmakers want you to notice.

There are 47 soundtracks in the 1 hour 52 minute running time. They’re as much part of the story as the biggest A-Lister on the cast. They even hog some of the dialogue. When Buddy shares earphones with Baby, Bats jumps in, disses the whole concept of a ‘lucky song’. But they talk about it, drop the names of some more tunes (Queen’s Brighton Rock gets Baby running). Baby’s mother was an aspiring singer. Debora hums Baby by Carla Thomas when he sees her for the first time. Tinnitus is a metaphor for life itself and the only antidote is music. Baby has “got to listen to music 24/7 to stop the buzzing.”

The actors all play second fiddle to the music and somehow manage to make it better. Despite some atonal plot points, extra cheese in the script, and a rather pedestrian, PG-rated finish, you can thank Baby Driver for an absolute joy of a ride. And thank the internet for this little treasure – A complete list of all the soundtracks in the movie, with scene description.

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