Movie Review: “Baby Driver,” with Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Lily James, and Elina Gonzalez
The woman next to me at the press screening of Baby Driver did not want to be there. With every vulgar utterance, with every gun fired, with every car crash, she gasped and hid her eyes and at point put her head between her knees. Me? I was the asshole cackling like a maniac one seat to the right, overwhelmed with unhinged glee and giddy euphoria at a movie so intensely focused and so intentionally created. Filmmaker Edgar Wright has crafted his cinematic legacy with Baby Driver.
We are conditioned now to get hyped at everything, but Baby Driver legitimately earns that awe, with masterfully designed chase scenes, Ansel Elgort’s light-on-his-feet grace, and Jon Hamm’s unhinged villainy. And that goddamn soundtrack! The Beach Boys! The Damned! T. Rex! Golden Earring! Queen! Simon and Garfunkel! Young MC! Barry White! Every choice in Baby Driver reflects that a real living human person made it, not a conference room of cynical decision makers trying to figure out exactly how focus groups would react to every single thing. Baby Driver is more personal than that, and that intimacy—one that manifests for its characters in greed, desperation, love, and hatred—is its greatest strength.
The film focuses, of course, on its title character: Elgort (of The Fault In Our Stars) is a getaway driver named Baby (“B-A-B-Y,” he spells with smirking charm) with cheeks like a baby’s butt, smooth and youthful and seemingly innocent. For years, he’s been under the thumb of criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey, of Horrible Bosses), enlisted as the wheels for bank robberies, heists, and other not-so-legal endeavors throughout Atlanta. By day he waits for communication on his burner phone, and when he’s summoned, he arrives with his white earbuds dangling from his ears and his plastic sunglasses on, listening to Doc and his plans but never really registering a reaction.
It’s a blankness that drives other people insane—but Baby knows what he needs to do to get the job done. He comes to life primarily behind the wheel, with his songs cued up on his iPod and his eyes staring straight ahead, and even Doc’s crew, like the sensually threatening Buddy (Jon Hamm, of Keeping Up With the Joneses) and Darling (Eliza Gonzalez, of Jem and the Holograms) and the this-close-to-unhinged Bats (Jamie Foxx, of Annie), acknowledge that he has skill.
He’s never messed up, and he only has “one more job” until he’s “all paid up” with Doc for a slight from his childhood. And when that’s done, maybe Baby can pursue another life: one where his mixtapes transition into a music production career; where he can pay for his foster father Joseph’s (CJ Jones) healthcare with clean, not dirty, money; and where he can build a new future with pretty diner waitress Debora (Lily James, of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) by his side. It all sounds promising. But when has “one last job” ever worked out for anyone?
There is a kinetic quality to Baby Driver that can’t be captured in a review, no matter how many details you work into a description of a chase scene or a romantic meet-cute or a bloody shootout. But let it be said that Wright has a sense of fluidity and composition that makes Baby Driver feel like everything that is happening onscreen is actually happening in the real world, a groundedness that has been sorely lacking in summer blockbusters like Fate of the Furious, The Mummy, and Transformers: The Last Knight. Those were franchise pictures more interested in furthering a story than actually telling one. Baby Driver leans into its own narrative with adrenaline and zeal, and you’ll feel it.
As fantastic as it is that this whole damn thing is set to a soundtrack, attention must also be paid to how hard this movie hits emotionally: Baby blasting music through their sound system speakers so the deaf Joseph can feel the vibrations and dance along in his wheelchair is a tear-jerker of a moment; a tense face-off between Buddy and Bats shows the toxic masculinity festering inside each of them; an admission by Doc to Baby about his childhood will make you feel sympathetic for even the most ruthless of men. As fully as Wright ramps up the intensity of this genre-shaking film, he makes room for moments of honesty and truth, too.
Baby Driver isn’t perfect: Foxx’s character, although clearly meant to be aggressively annoying, nevertheless becomes too grating after a while, and it would be nice if Baby’s adored Debora had slightly more characterization. But those flaws are tolerable given that Wright has otherwise created one of the most dynamic films of 2017. My sympathies to the lady who sat next to me and hated it. But for the rest of us, Baby Driver is cinematic summer salvation.