Review: Strap in and hang on for the most exhilarating cinematic joyride since the original “Guardians of the Galaxy.” From the instant the screen bursts to life, Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver” practically stands on the gas pedal in an unabating acceleration through each and every frame of one of the most scrupulously put together motion pictures of all time. Wright boisterously flaunts his directorial prowess as he attains a magnitude of filmmaking excellence rarely upheld in the twenty-first century and almost exhaustively unobserved more than halfway through 2017. It’s unapologetically bold in its ambitions and relentlessly entertaining as it supplies all and more of the vehicular spectacle promised by the promotional material. This is the first truly sensational movie of the summer — one that will likely be revered as one of the year’s finest come awards season.
It would be in one’s best interest to abandon any preconceived notions about this film at the ticket window. In a genre-defying feat of auteuristic dexterity, Wright circumnavigates all of the pitfalls which plague most movies touting fast cars, big guns, a star-studded cast and a killer tracklist — a fact that is manifestly evident from the commencement of the very first sequence. Music is the essence of “Baby Driver,” giving life to everything from the action and dialogue to the editing and cinematography. Entire stretches of the film are flawlessly synchronized to the tempo of some of the most iconic records in music history, rendering each individual component of the feature a slave to the rhythm of the soundtrack. Similar to the cutting style of “La La Land,” edits are made precisely on the downbeat of classic hit songs like “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion or “Brighton Rock” by Queen as Ansel Elgort (a.k.a. “Baby”) drums, lip syncs and/or drives his way through every last second of the infectious tune’s duration. And while this achievement alone would satisfy most working directors, it was apparently not sufficient for the crew of this one-of-a-kind tour de force. Door slams, gunshots, car alarms, footsteps, gear shifts, the entire library of sound complements the movie’s musical arrangements to compose an unrivaled and immersive audio experience wherein each tone falls perfectly in line in accordance with the requisite time signature. Verbal exchanges in the piece also possess a certain musicality of their own, helping to establish the cadence of a scene while simultaneously propelling the plot forward. And, just like any playlist worth its salt, it makes sure to slow things down for just long enough between the conflict to provide the audience with ample breathing room without becoming any less engaging. It’s about as consummately composited as any film could ever aspire to be — as technically astounding as it is visually appealing and as unremittingly electrifying as it is profoundly heartrending.
What’s most remarkable about the combination of all of these elements is that the narrative never forsakes its authenticity in order to achieve a particular shot or arrive at a specific destination in the plot. Modern action flicks are notorious for being heavy on symbolism but vapid in terms of anything particularly substantive. Thankfully, “Baby Driver” stands in direct defiance of such stereotypes by capitalizing on its sensational cast in order to drive the plot home. This is where the film veritably transcends its own classification. There’s such a natural fluidity and uniformity to the storyline that it’s able to avoid falling prey to the clichéd hackery permeating most films in the action genre — films that struggle to balance an authentic, emotionally vulnerable romance with a smorgasbord of pulse-pounding stunt work. It is the writer’s impenitent exclusion of any extraneous dialogue which affords “Baby Driver” the ability to accomplish such a feat, providing the audience with all of the information it needs and absolutely nothing that it doesn’t. We’re able to digest precisely who these characters are and what they want after only a few concise back-and-forths, and that means more time can be devoted to enjoying both the glorious automotive extravaganza and the extraordinary acting performances taking place before our eyes. Ansel Elgort is flat out incredible, maintaining a staggering caliber of competency and presenting what is currently the capstone of his career. Lily James, despite her relatively small allotment of screen time, makes a noteworthy impression as well, along with the rest of the A-list roll sheet consisting of “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and Kevin Spacey. While it’s unusual to see actors at the top of their game lending support to a pair of rising stars, the resulting chemistry is virtually beyond compare. Add to that the masterfully choreographed cinematography, which features some of the most incomprehensibly graceful Steadicam long takes of the past five years, and this film quickly begins to emerge as the frontrunner for consideration as Edgar Wright’s magnum opus.
Final Take: “Baby Driver” is just a phenomenally awesome film. It’s the most fun I’ve had at the movies in a very, very long time. It borrows from the best movies across a variety of genres like “John Wick,” “La La Land,” “Drive,” and even the “Fast and Furious” franchise to create a brand new cinematic thrill ride in a class all its own. Everything from the sound to the imagery to the acting is impeccably well-realized to the point that I would easily consider it (at the time of this writing) tied for best film of the year alongside James Mangold’s “Logan.” I cannot recommend this film highly enough. If you’ve had it with the reboots, spinoffs and “cinematic universes,” go see “Baby Driver” in theaters this weekend. It will not disappoint.
Parental Guide: Language and violence are prevalent throughout the movie, but not over-the-top. And while it certainly earns its R-rating, there’s no sex, drug use or other questionable material to speak of (aside from the criminal enterprise around which the plot revolves). There’s a solid message at the root of the narrative that’s sure to resonate with all audiences, so parents shouldn’t have a problem with chaperoning older teens (16+) who can’t purchase a ticket for themselves; However, for the most informed decision possible, I’d recommend taking a look at Common Sense’s breakdown of the film in order to decide if the movie is right for you and your family.
The Verdict: 9/10