Review: Baby Driver (2017)

Baby Driver Poster

It’s time for something a little different, something I haven’t done on this site before.

It’s time for a movie review.

Today, I will be reviewing Baby Driver, written and directed by Edgar Wright, starring Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, and a bunch of other names that you can read up in that picture above. I’m a little late to the party on this one: Baby Driver came to theatres on June 28th, and although I was pretty excited to see it, I only actually got around to doing so last night. You may have already seen the movie, but even if you have, I still encourage you to keep reading! I think reviews are too often used solely to decide whether we should see a particular movie (or read a particular book, play a particular game, etc.). If you’ve seen the movie, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it — even/especially if you disagree with my opinion.

Oh, also, I’m not going to spend too much time on plot recap, but there will be some spoilers for the climax and ending of the movie.

So with all that out of the way, let’s begin.

I was casually hyped about Baby Driver since seeing the first trailer, especially since it was written and directed by Edgar Wright (best known for the “Cornetto trilogy” with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost). The premise looked solid and original. The aesthetic was captivating — I mean, just look at that poster up top, or the full version here.

This was a movie that was very upfront with its promises: amped-up car chases and a killer soundtrack.

And to its credit, Baby Driver delivered on those promises. The chase sequences are a perfect mix of adrenaline and gasoline — although as it turns out, the best one is a foot chase, not a car chase — and the soundtrack is inextricably woven through every scene.

More than anything else, I walked out of the theatre impressed with the movie’s choreography. I use the term a little loosely here, but the way the music and the onscreen events coalesced into a cohesive whole was a powerful source of momentum. When the soundtrack and chases took centre stage, it was hard not to go along for the ride.

And the movie hits you with this right from the outset. Check out the clip below of the first six minutes of the movie.

In a tight six-minute sequence, the film introduces some of the traits of its main protagonist, outlines its premise, and shows the interplay between the soundtrack and the action, all with basically no dialogue. It’s gorgeous as a self-contained scene, and there are scenes of a similar calibre throughout the movie.

It’s what’s stringing those scenes together that’s the problem. The plot wears pretty thin at times, and the characters have hardly enough depth or arcs to speak of. Buddy and Darling, portrayed by Jon Hamm and Eiza González, get arguably the most comprehensive backstory of the entire cast, and it’s in a 60-second rant from another character. Meanwhile, we get scraps for Baby (Elgort), Doc (Spacey), and Debora (Lily James) that are fully fleshed out.

That’s not to say that the characters aren’t interesting. Ansel Elgort deserves particular commendation for his pitch-perfect portrayal of Baby, with just the right amount of wry humour to go with his youthful good intentions and determination. CJ Jones was spectacularly compelling as Joseph, Baby’s deaf foster parent — I only wish we got to see more of the dynamic between him and Baby. In general, the actors did exceptionally well, but were unable to fully salvage a plot beleaguered with confused character motivations and strained seams connecting its elegantly choreographed chases.

These problems are particularly evident in the movie’s third act. Spacey’s character has a change of heart so sudden that it’ll give you whiplash, and the film opts to play to the exact opposite of its strengths for the (anti-)climactic confrontation between Baby and Buddy. On a certain level, I can see why Wright might not have had much of a choice: car chases are about escape rather than aggression, and focusing too hard on the musical accompaniment could have undermined any tension in the scene. Still, leaving those powerful tools sitting in the toolbox just showed off the flaws in the movie’s plot and characters all the more clearly when the stakes should have been at their highest.

The denouement was similarly confused. My girlfriend Emily captured it perfectly when she noted that the movie couldn’t seem to decide if it wanted a happy ending or not. It waffled for a few scenes before a “five years later” closer à la La La Land, except at least Baby Driver had the courtesy not to draw out its unnecessary appendix for a seeming eternity.

And yet, despite everything that I said in the last two and a half paragraphs, I still quite liked this movie.

Why? Paradoxically, because I decided not to treat it as a movie.

About a third of the way into Baby Driver‘s runtime, I decided to think of it as an extended music video. No, seriously, I did. And it made the whole experience so much more enjoyable.

That outlook helped me forgive some of the movie’s more egregious oversights (What’s Doc’s deal? How did Buddy steal a police car while seriously wounded? Why would Debora care about Baby after knowing him for such a short time?) and enjoy the aesthetic experience. It let me buy into some of the more overtly “crafted” moments — including the quasi-musical number when Baby goes to get coffee — for the sake of the spectacle. I was willing to suspend my skepticism and disbelief so that I could go along for the ride.

Baby Driver is not a flawless movie. Depending on your definition, it might not even be a great one. But it promised exciting car chases and an awesome soundtrack, and it certainly lived up to those promises.

GRADE: B+

Author: Mitchell

I'm 22 and currently pursuing my MA in Creative Writing at the University of Toronto.

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