You can tell a lot about a film from its opening shot. What it chooses to show, what it leaves out, and more. We see an average day, a street corner, a bank. Then the wheels roll up and fill the screen as the opening notes of Bellbottoms by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion starts to play. This is a film not so much about the job, about the heist, as it is about the momentum, and the groove. As our mobster bank-robbers roll out of the vehicle, rifles and shotguns in tow, as the action starts, we don’t watch the stakes at play, we don’t watch them make off with the perfect crime, instead we sit in the car and jam away with our protagonist, Baby (Ansel Elgort).
Baby Driver is a crime thriller with a heart of gold, this heart belonging to the titular driver himself. Since an accident as a child left Baby with tinnitus, and some serious scars both physically and emotionally. To remedy this, he is perpetually listening to a wide pantheon of playlists and songs (he has a different iPod for different moods) and we see the world from his view in every meaning. The entire film is on rhythm, every footstep, every pencil tap, every interjection, follows the beat of the songs playing in Baby’s ears. What follows is in effect a one hour and 53 minute long music video, and it is captivating from start to finish purely from a film-making standpoint, let alone the plot, characters, action, and oh so much more.
Doc (Kevin Spacey), heist band organizer extraordinaire and all-around terrifying mob boss-man, proclaims that this is the reason Baby is the best at what he does, calling him “Mozart in a go-kart.” Baby stands in stark, undeniable contrast to the rest of his ne’er-do-well colleagues, all of whom are just shy of comical exaggerations of criminal stereotypes, from Buddy (Jon Hamm) the rugged father figure, his lovely bubble-gum popping wife Darling (Eiza González), and the standout Bats (Jamie Foxx) a delectably un-hinged and outspoken loose gun. Each of these tests and pushes Baby’s limits and comfortability with this life of crime, especially as he begins to near that oh-so-evasive “one last job.” Complicating matters is his growing romance with the lovely waitress at his favorite diner, Debora (Lily James). Even though this romance is a large pivot point and crux of the film, it comes off as contrived that Deborah would fall so heavily so easily for the ever-silent Baby.
The first two acts of the film are primarily slow burn as we explore Baby’s inner psychology, and this is beautifully executed by Ansel Elgort. The contemplative silence of Baby and the wall his sunglasses put between us and his eyes leads to him delivering this thoughts, feelings, and emotions to the audience in his movement. His sudden stops, where he glances, and for how long. We walk, sway, and groove through the world with him, and we stop, stare, and deliberate in the same manner. In true thriller fashion, the tension is continually escalating; even during the slow parts we can feel the world pulling at Baby in all directions, and in true crime-drama fashion, our hearts have been racing continually when the breaking point finally arrives.
Edgar Wright is one of the most creative and inventive filmmakers in the business today, and his vast prior experience in comedy more than survives the transition to thriller, it thrives. The action sequences sway, pan, and cut to the music and the shots are well-blocked. While no one shot is particularly revolutionary or unique, it’s all perfectly identifiable, keeping enough separation to prevent confusion or obstruction of important key elements, while retaining an intimate distance for the acting to remain evident and clear, and yes; this whole time it’s still been perfectly timed to the soundtrack.
Baby Driver is more than the sum of its parts, of its acting, its cinematography, its script and its sound design. Baby Driver is a demonstration of what film can do when every last element dances together in sync, racing the viewer along and getting us ready to cheer for that killer track.