Monday, 26 June 2017

Baby Driver review

Ahead of its release on Wednesday, I decided to check out Edgar Wright's new film - an expensive-looking cocktail of shades, guns, and burning asphalt; all set to a roaring soundtrack of tunes from the last century of music.

Baby Driver is staggeringly, gut-punchingly, achingly awesome. It’s a film that starts slow, and revs up to one stunning adrenaline-shot straight to the heart: a 30 minute barrage of flashing lights, gore, swearing, fast cars, high stakes, and sunglasses – timed impeccably to a roaring score. It’s a movie that cunningly draws you in, then spits you out of the theatre at 200mph, raring to go. It’s the kind of movie that leaves free pairs of shades on the seats for a press screening.

The cool kids...
Ansel Elgort stars as Baby (“bee–ayy–bee–wye baby”), a young getaway driver working for Kevin Spacey’s Doc, although he’s been doing this since he was even younger (his parents died in a crash yadda yadda yadda). We open on an impeccably choreographed car chase through the streets of New York, timed to Bellbottoms (The John Spencer Blues Explosion), and showcasing his incredible talent. He weaves through traffic - narrowly missing pedestrians, cars, and the police as he drifts and revs through rush hour. It’s an impressive, spine-chill inducing sight; and one that sets up the story to come.

Said story essentially consists of our hero falling in love with a local diner waitress (Lily James in R&R mode), and trying to disentangle himself from crime; a quest hampered by Doc and his henchmen – including Jamie Foxx, Eiza Gonzalez, and John Hamm among others. This initially proceeds at an amicably humorous and slightly edgy tone; before taking a hard left into bloody action for the stellar final act. Suffice to say there’s a few surprises along the way (not many films make me physically shout expletives in the theatre – but this was one of them).

The cool kid
The main piece of gimmickery at work here is the impressive soundtrack – the album of which is feature-length – that permeates the entire picture (save a few moments here and there). Not only that, but what’s seen on camera is choreographed precisely to the music; from walking to the office with coffee, to shooting up an entire warehouse of arms dealers. Interestingly the inspiration for this - Wrights own video for Blue Song - even shows up on a TV screen. Both luckily, and frustratingly, there’s no real coherence to these songs; going from gentle blues to abrasive rap in a number of seconds as if somebody had clicked shuffle on the entire Spotify library. This has the effect of keeping the action fresh and surprising throughout – and Edgar Wrights aversion to using too many big-name tunes stops the material from feeling completely derivative. The best way to describe it, I think, would be La La Land with a shit-ton of guns.

Speaking of guns, the action-to-story quotient in Baby Driver is considerably skewed to the former. Usually, in a movie this could get a little tiring; but Wright masterfully choreographs these scenes in escalation – so that the level of wince-inducing brutality slowly builds up over the two hours to a towering crescendo of excess. It’s often said that audiences have been completely desensitised to violence; but creating a paradigm where violence is low, and then blowing that part is incredibly effective. It’s what Nic Refn has become synonymous with – but in this comedic context, it’s nothing short of refreshing.

As you can probably tell so far, this movie kicks ass in the best possible way; but +1000 awesome points doesn’t mean it’s without its flaws. In fact, I have no problems with saying it’s got a metric shit-ton of them. The premise reeks of opportunism and plagiarism - a direct rip-off of Drive, with Shelley from Twin Peaks chucked in; and we’ve known since the late 90s that all-encompassing pop-culture soundtracks are either an attempt to copy Tarantino or to try and emulate style where the director can’t think of anything original to do. The first hour, also, is mostly underwhelming as a generic crime flick set to some tunes. This, essentially, means that you’re going to see a movie with no heft and no real originality – but the way in which this vacuum is filled has such neon panache that you’re gonna love it anyway.

So there you have it; Baby Driver is the ultimate expression of style over substance. It’s a movie with nothing but surface artifice - a stolen story comprised of thieved imagery and a score of pre-existing records. A piece of work that lacks any realism or strong emotion; and which has no real ‘point’ or direction. But the visceral onslaught of crazy car-chases, stunning shootouts, and neon-lit 50’s Americana - timed impeccably to music - means that his is one hell of a ride. I don’t care that it has no real style of its own; and I don’t care if it’s completely meaningless: it may not be worth 5-stars; but it could be the most purely enjoyable cinema-going experience of your life.

Buy the ticket. Take the ride. Thank me later. 

Baby Driver gets 4 stars!

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