A love letter from Edgar Wright to crime capers, diner romances and, above all, music, Baby Driver is a heist movie that nabs your heart. Wright’s first solo-scripted outing, it’s a more rounded work than his last venture across the pond, 2010’s enjoyable but scattershot Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. A getaway saga that’s perfectly in sync with its soundtrack, it’s a hugely enjoyable ride from the moment Wright puts pedal to metal.
Set in Atlanta, albeit with the city looking (slightly) nicer than it did in last year’s Triple 9, it centres on ‘Baby’, a near-mute wheelman played by Ansel Elgort at his most, well, baby-faced. He works for Doc (Kevin Spacey), a hardened criminal mastermind who never uses exactly the same crew twice. But thanks to Baby’s prodigious driving skills, and the fact that he owes Doc an unspecified debt, this young gun is constantly on-call.
Baby’s USP is that he spends his days with his earbuds in listening to one of several iPods he carries with him everywhere. Turns out he has tinnitus from a childhood accident, and the music helps drown out the constant ringing in his ears.
But there’s another reason: the tunes act like fuel as he waits with the engine running (an idea Wright already road-tested in his 2003 video for Mint Royale’s ‘Blue Song’, albeit with Noel Fielding playing the getaway driver role for laughs).
The first time we see Baby in action, he’s sitting in his red Subaru, lip-syncing to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s ‘Bellbottoms’. As his fellow gang members – Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm and Eiza González – return with the swag, Baby careers away seemingly in time to the music. With Baby outwitting police cars at every turn, the stunt driving is fantastic, the editing by Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss peerless. It leaves you breathless.
Wright’s soundtrack choices don’t start and end with the driving scenes, though. With 35 songs on the playlist, the film is wall-to-wall music – Baby’s always listening to something. Even a trip to the local coffee shop to pick up lattes for the gang feels more like a waltz, beautifully choreographed in long takes as Baby weaves in and around pedestrians. Some may find this annoying, but Wright directs with such enthusiasm, it’s hard not to feel swept up.
Gradually, Baby’s backstory is revealed. His late mother was a singer; he now lives with his wheelchair-bound foster father (CJ Jones), who is deaf and speaks to Baby in sign language. There has to be a girl, of course – and when he meets diner waitress Deborah (Lily James), he’s smitten. What’s more, after the next job – this time featuring Jamie Foxx’s unhinged Bats – Baby is finally paid-up with Doc. But, this being the movies, there’s always one last job...
True, Wright isn’t going to win any awards for original plotting here but, in some ways, he’s not trying to. This is about playing with the crime genre and reinvigorating the clichés, which he manages to do with real vigour. Wright gifts his actors with a smart script and they all – without exception – absolutely lap it up. Spacey may reserve most of his villainy for House of Cards these days, but it’s great to see him on form as a big-screen menace again.
Likewise, Hamm and Foxx relish their bad-boy roles and James shines as the girl who turns our hero’s head. (She’s very much Alabama to Elgort’s Clarence, to use a True Romance analogy.) But the real plaudits belong to Elgort. actor comes of age here; it may not prove to be quite as career-making a turn as Ryan Gosling in , but he sells the character perfectly: a good guy caught in a bad situation.
True, you do miss the killer laughs of Wright’s work with Simon Pegg. But there’s much to compensate; the superbly curated soundtrack – Queen, Simon & Garfunkel, Martha and the Vandellas, The Damned – is worth your ticket price, nachos and bucket of soda alone. It will be the Spotify playlist of the summer, guaranteed.
By the time the film screams into its final act, Wright ramps up the action, throws in the odd curveball and lets the bullets fly. Again, the outcome is all very familiar – and Baby Driver’s tank does start to run dry as the finish line approaches. But mostly it goes like the clappers. Buckle up.