Movie Review: Baby Driver (2017)

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Edgar Wright’s newest feature is a driving action film, about a getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) forced into a world of crime. Jam packed with stunts, quips and pop tunes galore, this is Edgar Wright’s most ambitious film. And it may be his best.

*****
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Hamm, Flea, Jon Bernthal, Flea and Jamie Foxx.

Growing up as part of the video generation, Edgar Wright can quote his mafia as well as Quentin Tarantino and pile his gore as gruesomely as Robert Rodriguez. Here, with only his fifth feature, Wright manages to do something his marvelous ‘Hot Fuzz’ didn’t; reinvented the thriller. In a film wham packed full of sleek stylings and speed chasing adrenaline, ‘Driver’ is a love letter to the realm of pop culture (its title is a sneaky steal from one of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ filler songs). He may have bailed out on ‘Ant-Man,’ but this more than compensates for the four-year interlude since ‘The World’s End’ last blasted on the screen.

Writing the project himself, this is a celluloid greatest hits of Wright’s career. As acerbic as ‘Shaun of The Dead’ and ‘Spaced,’ as batteringly well edited as ‘Scott Pilgrim,’ this is a passion project for said director, envisioning his car chase to ‘Bellbottoms’ as early as 1994. With a soundtrack as eclectic, but narratively well placed as ‘Pulp Fiction,’ this is a musical romp that brings the soundtrack as an additional cast.

Leading the starry cast is Ansel Elgort, whose only notable credit was the risible ‘The Fault In Our Stars.’ Now, given a quality script, Elgort brings panache and effortless cool to the proceedings. If a little less handsome than Steve McQueen, Elgort has a similar sense of charismatic gravitas, equally convincing as both heartthrob and sleuth. Joining him are Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx. Spacey, who has not been known for subtlety since winning his second Oscar, gives a subdued performance, as commanding as Frank Underwood, with fewer soliloquies. Foxx, wilder here than his Wild West character Django, handles some of the film’s funniest and deadliest moment (his reaction to receiving an Austin Powers mask when he asked for a Michael Myers mask is priceless!) The other parts come in many unusual forms. Jon Hamm comes as a party animal, witty and laconic in a way only Hamm can, Flea takes a break from touring and plays an erratic criminal not too far from his role in ‘The Big Lebowski.’

Downtown Abbey’s Lily James stars as love interest Deborah, pertaining the air of fifties cinema. But its Elgort’s show, steering wheel in hand, music to stand the beat he races to chase through his missions. “He had an accident when was a kid” Spacey’s Doc intones. “Still has a hum in the drum. Plays music to drown it out. That’s what makes him the best”. And the indelible image of Elgort with black shades and white headphones is one of the best in recent memory (only Kylo Ren’s saber mask competes).

As line after line shoots faster than the bullets or tires shot, Wright, retains his snappy postmodern dialogue he so brilliantly brought in ‘Hot Fuzz’ and ‘The World’s End’ (Timothy Dalton’s ‘my prices are criminal’ etc.). ‘Driver’ is his most sophisticated film, which is swerving more to the mainstream than any of his four previous (no wonder Simon Pegg doesn’t feature), noir in its look, thrilling in its delivery. If anyone had any doubts that Wright belonged in the big screen business, this would shut the naysayers.

If the film can be accused of one thing, it’s style over substance and anyone looking for any of its actors to give career best performances better look elsewhere (James will certainly be better remembered for ‘Cinderella’ than ‘Baby Driver’). It’s a director’s film, the visuals, and music more important than the cast, but many of the same accusations can be leveled at eighties nouveau classics ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Diva.’ ‘Driver’ is the most original film in a long time. No wonder Marvel couldn’t hack Wright!

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