Image courtesy of Sony Pictures
Edgar Wright has always been the kind of filmmaker that does and says what he wants. In fact, when he isn't given the reigns to be the visionary director or writer that he is, he walks away, which would explain why he left behind his long-gestating "Ant-Man" script after he and Marvel clashed over creative differences. And when we see in the news recently of how Phil Lord and Chris Miller left the still untitled Han Solo film over the same reason, I can't help but think studio executives aren't letting directors have creative control or freedom anymore. They have to bring in a director who is going to follow strict blueprints. When in reality that's not art, it's taking marching orders. So how ironic, that in a movie-going season filled with big-budget tentpoles, which have their scripts and scenes reworked to fit a business model, Sony had the courage to drop (and finance) "Baby Driver," an original old-fashion action flick, right smack dab in the heat of it all- (with a director whose vision was seen through to the end) - and it's probably the best movie you will see all summer, and quite possibly the year.
Now I can't speak for everyone or deny how great "Wonder Women" was, but that film was good on its own merits. An attempt to win fans back over to the DC extended universe, and it worked. However, "Baby Driver," is a gritty, no-holds bar, non-superhero masterpiece that somehow feels like a miracle in a year where movies have lacked definition and fewer have lacked purpose, "Wonder Women" not being one of them.
Aside from his directing duties on the picture, Wright also does what he does best, writes. You may remember him as the father of the beloved "Cornetto Trilogy" that consisted of "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz," and "The World's End" - which are some of the best movies on the planet. Next to his other sleeper-cult favorite "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World," which only solidifies how this man doesn't need to prove himself to anyone. His script is one intense sequence after another, with scenes that would make any "Fast and Furious" film blush.
Effortlessly set up from the first reel, Ansel Elgort steps up to the pedal as our titular Baby, and that's where our story begins, with him behind the wheel of a gassed up engine and rock ballads cracked to the max. Baby is a getaway driver for bank heists and robberies, and not just any, he's the best. He manages to outrun fleets of police cars down freeways, hide from overhead helicopters, jump over guardrails, and do it all without flinching a muscle. To some, he might seem odd as Baby hardly speaks and has a sting in his ear, stemming from an accident when he was a child, that subsides whenever he is plugged into his many Ipod's. (He was one for each of his different moods). The kid also makes killer mix tapes, often taken from recordings of his meeting with Doc (Kevin Spacey) a ruthless kingpin who runs the town in more ways than one. The backstory is, Doc has a debt weighted over Baby's head that needs to be repaid, and with one final job on the horizon, he might just be able to get out. "Do this one job and we are square" Doc tells Baby. But, somehow, we know that's not true. Doc is the kind of ruthless crusader that Spacey knows all too well, a character that doesn't have to tell you just how powerful he really is.
Being the meticulous and precise criminal he is, Doc never likes to use the same crews twice, except for Baby, so on each job, he brings in different sources of hired help. Among them is Buddy (Jon Hamm), his wife Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and recently, a street thug named "Bats" - who is played so deliciously by Jamie Foxx, who delivers his best performance in years. This is some of the best casting of the decade, and one of the many examples of how quickly Wright captivates you once in the driver seat. Elgort specifically excels as Baby who is finally given the type of role he deserves. Baby is reserved and quiet, at home he takes care of his foster dad and flips through the channels nightly. He isn't a bad kid, he's just caught up with some bad people. And with supposedly one more hit left in his docket, we can tell he wants out. This sympathy is so crucial because as soon as bodies start flying, we need to feel invested.
It stands to reason that, while, "Baby Driver" tries to collude into so many different narrative arcs - like the subplot romance between Baby and a waitress named Deborah (Lily James) or how the young hungry kid is yearning for a crime-free life, and all his childhood traumas seem to haunt him; which, despite all that, "Baby Driver" does the impossible task of landing on it's feet anyway. Because, like all of Wright's scripts, it has ambition and is propelled from scene to scene with precise and thrilling accuracy, allowing the film to sustain a high velocity of energy for a solid two hours. Which is all a testament to how smoothly intricate Wright's script is; and the final product only gets bolstered by a subversive soundtrack that includes the likes of Queen, Barry White, Beck and Simon and Garfunkel. "Baby Driver" is perhaps the best-kept secret of the year, and while it doesn't rewrite the genre of heist capers, maybe the film can serve as an example or two, of how a Hollywood studio let a very skilled and established director, deliver on his guaranteed potential. Now if only the head honchos over at Marvel would get on board. A