Baby Driver is a remarkable cinematic achievement, mostly because of audacious originality. While it’s certainly derived in part from other movies and stories (everything is based on or at least inspired by what’s come before), it feels like a breath of fresh air at the theater. Even with above-average superhero movies like Wonder Woman and Spider-Man: Homecoming, Baby Driver is a much-needed dose of pure adrenaline-fueled inspiration.
The story, as Nolan laid out before, is pretty simple: Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a young man who’s being coerced to act as a getaway driver in the heists engineered by criminal planner Doc (Kevin Spacey). Baby’s debt to Doc is almost paid and he’s looking forward to being out of the world of bank robberies and other violence. The light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter when he meets Debora (Lily James) and the two dream of running off together. But things get complicated when Doc won’t loosen his grip and the job Baby was hoping would be his last goes sideways, resulting in problems and unexpected outcomes for everyone.
The word that’s been circling my head ever since walking out of the theater has been “intentional.” Writer/director Edgar Wright doesn’t do anything halfway, something that’s been true in most all his movies to date. He knows exactly the shot he wants, knows exactly how he wants it framed, knows what information he wants to convey with the framing and composition and so on. Every move he makes is intentional, meant to accomplish as much as a single frame of film (or its digital equivalent) can.
Nowhere is that better on display than during a tense shootout involving Baby and the criminals he’s paired with. Without spoiling too much for those who haven’t yet seen it, the sequence – which can’t last more than three or four minutes – is remarkable for the coordination in filming, music timing, editing and other elements. It’s simply unlike any other scene, action or otherwise, that’s been filmed in recent years. Everyone refers to Quentin Tarantino as a stylized filmmaker, but this is next level to an extent Tarantino hasn’t yet hit and may not even be capable of.
All of that originality of voice, tone and style was on display in the trailers and other marketing elements. As I said when looking at the campaign, the emphasis was on the music that powered Baby’s driving skills and that was clearly a focus of the story. He carries around a half-dozen iPods with different music selections on them, makes his own mixes including conversations he secretly records and always has music in his head, either literally or figuratively. It’s the rare case of an extensive mixtape-like approach to the soundtrack isn’t just about selling albums but is essential to the story. That’s clear not only in the above-mentioned shootout but even in smaller scenes like one where Baby fumbles with the radio of a car he’s just stolen until he finds the perfect music.
If anything, the trailers played down the style Wright has imbued the movie with. It’s *more* than what was sold. So if you haven’t seen it yet, be ready to be bombarded by the talents of one of the most original thinkers Hollywood has working right now. I wouldn’t be mad if the reports of a sequel turn out to be true, though I enjoy Wright when he’s farming fresh ground, not revisiting previous material.