Colour me a fool but I've never cared much for Edgar Wright's films. With the exception of Scott Pilgrim, his filmography mostly fell into the kind of British dark comedy I simply didn't connect with whilst growing up in Italy. Maybe then it's not a coincidence that Baby Driver as his second American film (though British-American co-production is more accurate) managed to grab my attention.
Before you start wondering – nope, I'm not a getaway driver for high profile heists – I don't even have a UK driver's license. The main reason I related so much to Ansel Elgort‘s charming protagonist is my extreme love for music and the soothing, healing power it can have on your soul. Just like his character I also don't go anywhere without my iPod constantly connected to my ears and albeit not turning my commutes into a make-shift musical, I find myself shaking, tapping to the beat, air-drumming, air-guitar picking and lip-syncing to words I can only listen to. It's how I cope with the dullness of daily routines and the lingering pain of various life-long distress.
Wright's narrative isn't anything particularly new. The hero is an outsider with a troubled past who fell on the wrong side of the tracks and has put his mad driving skills at the service of an organised crime kingpin (Kevin Spacey) to whom he owes a lot of cash. Baby, yes, B-A-B-Y, that's the name our prodigious driver goes by, is close to extinguishing his debt and dreams about freedom and riding into the sunset with no destination. Especially after falling in love at first sight with Debora (Lily James), the gorgeous and equally music-inclined new waitress at the diner he frequents regularly. But as in any Mephistophelian pact worthy of its nature, Baby soon realises that his boss has no intention of letting him go because he's too good at his job and of course keeps him hanging by the emotional threat of hurting the boy's loved ones.
The fresh take Wright brings to this classic set up, though seemingly aimed at defining the film's aesthetics for the most part, is actually an essential element of the story which translates into establishing its emotional core. Baby's ‘addiction' to never separating from his earbuds is due to having developed tinnitus after a car accident when he was a child – something that scarred him not just with a physical trauma but especially an emotional one.
Besides the music passion which has him record noises and conversations and then remix them into catchy electronic tunes, the reason why Baby always has his iPod playing in his ears is to focus whilst driving and prevent his condition from becoming an impairment. It's no surprise then how the various gangs of thugs he's assigned to drive for usually assume he is a bit on the spectrum, hence turning edgy and uncomfortable around him, especially in the case of Jamie Foxx's wild Bats.
Wright immediately draws us into the heart of his high concept with an adrenaline-fuelled set piece, introducing the characters and the essential plot. And just like the opener, every other action sequence is meticulously designed and choreographed and brilliantly cut to the music, which becomes a character itself.
Upon early trailers Baby Driver has been hailed as some sort of action musical but don't expect an old fashioned, stiff execution of the genre. The astounding way music plays its part in the film's narrative transcends any lip-syncing moment Elgort – who entertains a DJ/pop star career on the side – performs nonchalantly. What electrifies and captivates the audience from the opening sequence is the stylish fashion in which the infectious soundtrack is seamlessly queued up and cut not just to the images on screen but also to the entire soundscape.
Whereas your average action movie becomes a cacophony of cars crashing and automatic weapons being mercilessly unloaded upon anything in their path, here every bullet ricocheting is turned into a note, leaving you breathlessly in awe of the craftsmanship at play.
What emerges from the tightly-paced 113 minutes of running time is a film-maker with an original vision who assembled the right team for the job, confidently leading his cast to deliver entertaining and even compelling characters rather than caricatures.
Spacey in particular deserves mention for his multilayered performance capturing the subtlety of the relationship between his criminal mastermind and our hero. While Jon Hamm proves his range, making us forget his iconic TV role on Mad Men , by embodying a villain that could be just a cartoonish psycho-lunatic but turns out to be charming and sympathetic.
Last but not least, Ansel Elgort confirms to be more than just eye candy for film adaptations of YA literature and although his smouldering looks facilitate his likability, the young thespian succeeds at making his three-dimensional character leap off the page and become alive on screen and convincingly so.
Relentlessly exciting fun with a heart, Baby Driver is first class Hollywood entertainment for the masses but with plenty to be enjoyed as well by those with a more demanding cinematic palate like yours truly.
Wright redefines the heist movie with an electrifying original concept – a rarity these days – yet pays homage to the genre whilst winning us over with slick personal style, outstanding sound and picture editing and a perfect soundtrack. The cast is on board for the ride and it shows. This is the most fun I've had at the cinema with a studio movie in a very long time.
Words by Francesco Cerniglia
Baby Driver is out in cinemas from June 28, 2017