SPOILER ALERT: I do my best in this review to steer clear of completely spoiling the film. However, if you would like to go into the movie with a blank slate, you probably shouldn't read this before you watch it. As with all my reviews, they are designed more to foster discussion for people after they have already watched the film.
As I watched this movie in the theater, I found myself wondering about the last time I had this much fun watching a movie on the big screen. The music, the rythym, the characters - they all come together from the moment this movie turns on the ignition. Its opening scene is memorable for many reasons, but none more so for me than how it perfectly conveys the feeling of jamming alone to a song in the car. In many ways, it is a perfect summer movie. If you've ever pushed the gas pedal to the floor while listening to a great song in your car, you know the feeling of this film.
Baby Driver grabs you from the beginning. The movie's director, Edgar Wright, clearly had a vision and stuck to it. He deserves heaps of praise for his skill in doing so.
The movie follows the life of Baby (Ansel Elgort). His true name is not revealed until the end of the film, so we are left with this moniker given to him by the seedy characters with whom he associates. Some of those include Bats, an unsettling character played by Jamie Foxx who always seems to have more going on under the surface than he lets on; Buddy and Darling, a pair of star-crossed lovers played by Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez committing crimes together in the style of Bonnie and Clyde; and Doc, the head of the organization played by the inimitable Kevin Spacey.
Baby has been in debt to Doc ever since he stole one of Doc's cars. Now, he drives Doc's getaway cars in order to repay the debt. When we meet Baby, he only has a few more jobs left before he's all square. Baby wants out.
Baby also has tinnitus which stems from a car accident that took the lives of his parents when he was a child. Baby survived, but he now lives (both physically and figuratively) with the consequences. To block out this constant ringing, Baby listens to music. He also makes mixes of everyday conversations using a micro-cassette recorder that he carries with him. He has one particular cassette that he reveres above all the others. We see the title early in the film - Mom. As Baby is listening to music, we see the rhythm of life around him. Car doors close to the beat. The sound of guns firing seem perfectly tuned to some cosmic symphony. The care and vision necessary to orchestrate all of that on screen are more reasons that Wright is so deserving of plaudits for his work on the film. I love the musicality of this movie, and it continues throughout.
As Baby is trying to finally repay his debt to the mob, he meets Debora (Lily James), a waitress at a local diner. We now have a storyline that borders on cliche: the innocent man trying to pull himself out of the crime world and ride off into the sunset with his girl. It is a storyline which, I believe, reaches its zenith in the movie Drive (2011) directed by Nicholas Winding Refn. That movie, too, had a fast driver trying to rid himself from crime and get the girl. It also had a fantastic soundtrack in its own right. Baby Driver has drawn some surface level comparisons to that film. In a head-to-head matchup, I prefer the Refn film for its style and, ultimately, more substantive nature. But I do not believe that Baby Driver is trying to do the same things as Drive, and I don't believe a head-to-head comparison is fair to either film. They are both good in their own right.
Baby Driver steers clear of the cliche present in its storyline by finding its own style and voice. As I said, the musicality of the film is present throughout, and it provides Baby Driver with a great deal of originality. The film has its own unique voice, too - providing laughs when you don't expect them. It is, through-and-through, an extremely fun film to watch.
Baby finally does his last heist for Doc, who says that they are now "straight." Ecstatic about his new life, Baby begins working a job that makes sense for a fast driver - pizza delivery. With all his money from driving for the heists, he decides to take Debora out to a fancy dinner. There, he runs into Doc and realizes that there is no getting out. Doc does not want to give up his prized driver so easily. Doc makes it clear that being "straight" never meant that Baby was "free." He threatens Baby into driving for another heist.
This heist inevitably goes wrong. Bats finally explodes, killing arms dealers who he knew to be former cops. After the botched deal, the group drives off down the road before they decide that they need to stop to eat. Where do they stop? Yep, you guessed it - Debora's diner.
Again, the storyline here opens the movie up to cliche. But Wright once again handles the story in such a way that breathes new life into a familiar plot. The key here is that you feel for Baby and Debora as they awkwardly navigate the situation. You mostly feel for Debora, someone who has no control over the situation, but has unwittingly placed herself in the middle of a storm.
The final third of this movie ensues with Tarantino-esque levels of violence. Specifically, the face-off between Baby and Buddy near the end of the film is not for the squeamish. It is in that scene that Baby goes to Doc for help, and it is here that I think the movie hits one of its few flat notes, but I'll get to that in a second. Ultimately, Baby realizes that to truly get out of this life of crime, he has to make a sacrifice. As he and Debora make a final run for it, he realizes the disgusting nature of his life of crime and finally gives himself up. It is in this act of selflessness that Baby grows up. He is sentenced to 25 years in jail with a parole hearing after five. The movie doesn't end there, however. I will leave how it does end for you to find out, except to say that, once again, the movie takes a cliche and infuses it with its own flair, this one stemming from Baby's prized possession. I've undoubtedly given enough spoilers as it is.
Now, as for the character of Doc, this is my main complaint about the film. What I love about Baby Driver is how it loves its characters. We are pulled into the film's unique style and aesthetic because Baby is such a great character. Many of the supporting roles are given a great deal of depth as well.
But I simply don't think Doc, as we've known him for the rest of the movie, would act in the way he acts at the movie's end. If he truly does care that much about Baby, why didn't he let him off after Baby had paid his debt? He's either a ruthless crime boss or he's a gentle father figure for Baby. For him to be both, I feel like we need to see some major event in the middle of the movie that would necessitate that change. I don't see it, and I think it blunts some of what the movie tries to do near the end.
However, that is not enough for me to do more than give a momentary pause in my praise. Overall, I love what this film does do - create an original feeling for a familiar story. It is such a fun film to watch, and I told my wife as we left the theater, "I'd watch that movie again right now." So many of the movies we see these days are not original works in that they are based on stories or characters we already know. Baby Driver takes a plot we already know, but infuses it with original characters and unique twists on the genre. When we get a film that does that in such a fun, stylish manner, it should be heaped with praise.
Note on content: This film is fun to watch, however it certainly is not appropriate for all viewers. On violence alone, the movie's final third may be too much for some. I won't sugarcoat things: the violence at the end of the movie inches very close to grotesque. Some may say it crosses that line entirely. But, in a movie whose storyline centers so heavily on crime, grotesque acts of violence are probably to be expected. Still, be prepared going into the movie if you are specifically bothered by violence on screen. As for profanity, I didn't feel like this movie contained any more or less than most movies of this genre that you might see today. There is no nudity, but the relationship between Buddy and Darling is certainly played for some mild sexual content.