Movie Name: “Baby Driver”
Running Time: 1 hr, 53 min
Fun fact: According to IMDB, director Edgar Wright had himself strapped to the shooting cars to avoid losing communication links with the actors or cameras.
I’ll be frank; “Baby Driver” is an action movie, and to a degree it adheres to certain action movie clichés. Does the protagonist get into a bad situation from which he cannot extricate himself? Check. Is his girlfriend threatened? Check. Does he have to partake in some great crime to protect her? Check. But, with that said, Wright has given us a movie with both high-octane energy and pathos, a tough act to pull off.
The movie is about empathetic, young protagonist Baby (Ansel Elgort) and his efforts to escape his duties working as a getaway driver for the mysterious and rather Machiavellian “Doc” played by Kevin Spacey (reminiscent of Spacey’s Frank Underwood from House of Cards). Baby has served as a getaway driver in order to pay off a debt to Doc from years before, and he assumes his duties swiftly and smoothly with all the power of a Superman-like character. However, what is meant to be his successful last heist is not the end of the story. When Baby mentions that he will soon be “done” with his duties, Spacey’s Doc cannily replies that they will be “straight” rather than “done,” hinting ominously at a dark truth: He will not let Baby loose once the debt is paid off. In Doc’s world, one can right one’s debts, but can never truly be free, defly setting up conflict in the movie.
Baby wants to make a new start with his new girlfriend Debora, whom he has met at a café (in which his dead mother once worked) and to find some semblance of happiness for the first time in years. Doc has other plans, and he masterfully knows how to both flatter and threaten Baby, making him a truly fascinating, dynamic character. In one moment, Doc refers to Baby as a “lucky charm.” In another darker moment, he summarizes Baby’s reason for staying in the game, and makes clear the ultimate futility of escape: “I could break your legs and kill everyone you love.” And thus, Baby is dragged into yet another heist, even while plotting his own escape and freedom, and these clashing tensions give the movie the kind of power needed to succeed.
Forced into a caper that entails the robbery of blank money orders from a post office, we are introduced to other members of Doc’s crew. There is the cold and precise Bats (a ruthless and precise Jamie Foxx), Buddy (the ever charismatic Jon Hamm), and his wife/partner in crime Darling (Eiza Gonzalez). They have their own motivations, their own desires to maintain power and control, and as flawed as they are, one cannot help but feel some pang of sympathy for them. Even Spacey’s ruthless Doc in a tense moment empathizes with Baby’s love for Debora, noting almost wistfully that “I was in love once.” Character desires are fleshed out nicely and consistently by Wright, and as a viewer I could relate to and feel the intensity of these desires.
The real tour de force, though, is the movie’s clever and constant use of music, providing an eclectic and unique soundtrack that reflects the protagonist’s own interests. Baby is constantly listening to music in one form or another, including most memorably during getaway scenes and tense moments. He has made his own mix tapes, and he has a propensity for carefully choosing music to play during getaway scenes. He has a wide and eclectic taste. In the opening scene, “Bellbottoms” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosions, plays as Baby waits for members of Doc’s crew to emerge from a bank. In another tense moment, he has chosen “Tequila” by Button Down Brass, juxtaposed against a confrontation that culminates in a shootout. Music for Baby reflects not just his interests, but his own dark past, including the loss of his singer mother in a car accident, that has left him both with a bad case of tinnitus and a need for connection. Thus, through music we learn to truly understand and empathize with Baby emotionally.
Should you see this movie? Maybe
I did feel that more development of the relationship with Debora would have helped further understand Baby’s actions and highlight in greater detail what he wants from life, but Wright has provided truly memorable characters and established conflicts well, and that more than compensates for the film’s shortcomings.
Collegian reporter Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Twitter handle is @dudesosad.