Baby Driver is a blast from start to finish, a precision-engineered adrenaline-fuelled joyride from British writer-director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), whose first American film is a genre-hopping delight, syncopating action and music to scintillating effect. Described as Grand Theft Auto meets La La Land, it has video game thrills, a euphoric soundtrack and a smart script that mixes crime, comedy and romance in its story of a young getaway driver seeking love and freedom.
What sets Baby Driver apart is the way its jukebox soundtrack meshes with the action so that the two elements enhance each other. When the film starts we experience the world via the iPod headphones of Baby (Ansel Elgort), drumming on his steering wheel, flipping his windscreen wipers and playing air guitar to the stop-start racket of Bellbottoms by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. As the track flares into life, so does Baby’s car as he expertly guides it away from a fleet of pursuing cop cars.
A later bank heist and car chase is choreographed around the deliriously hectic punk of The Damned’s Neat Neat Neat. The heist doesn’t go to plan, so Baby plays the song again, this time with car, driver and music in perfect synch. Exhilarating car chases in Baby Driver are up there with those feted sequences in films like Bullitt and The French Connection, with added shiver-inducing music: a heady cocktail indeed.
A shootout is soundtracked by Tequila by The Champs, the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire matching the song’s drum solo, the chorus punctuated by explosions. Elsewhere, with more subtlety, Wright cuts from a twitching body to channel-hopping on the car radio – music and life flickering on and off.
Two films spring to mind in which Jimi Hendrix songs have been used as rocket fuel: Withnail & I and In the Name of the Father. But Baby Driver takes the propulsive power of music to a new level. Its editors will surely win Oscars next time around.
Music soundtracks Baby’s life and it also blocks out the tinnitus he suffers from, which dates back to the car accident that killed both his parents. He cherishes a cassette tape of his mum singing and mixes home-made hip hop tracks using snippets of recorded conversation. As Baby, Ansel Elgort (Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars) looks like a puppyish young Tom Hardy and exudes a similar coolness and charm.
The film’s plot revolves around a succession of robberies masterminded by Atlanta gangster Doc (Kevin Spacey, channelling Ronnie Kray), with a rotating crew featuring the likes of Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eliza Gonzalez) and Bats (Jamie Foxx). Ace getaway driver Baby, ‘a devil behind the wheel,’ is paying off an old debt to Doc. He wants out and briefly works as a Goodfellas pizza delivery boy (customer: ‘whoo, that was fast!’), dreaming of escape out West with waitress girlfriend (Lily James, Cinderella, War and Peace), before he is given an offer he can’t refuse: ‘what’s it going to be? Behind the wheels or in a wheelchair?’
As the crew unravels, Wright builds to a tense chase-off, accompanied by Queen’s thrilling Brighton Rock: when guitarist Brian May opens his solo box of tricks the film’s drama spirals to match the twists and turns of the music.
Baby Driver is so good you’ll want to see it again. Make sure you see it on the big screen for maximum amphetamine thrills. You’ll leave the cinema on a high.