Baby Driver delivers. It is rare for a movie to live up to its trailer, and Baby Driver has a doozy to live up to. Trailers excel at setting action to music, creating a sense of the kind of sublime synthesis between image, music, and emotion we love to experience at the movies. It’s easier, perhaps, to maintain that kind of high-wire choreography for two minutes rather than for two hours, but Baby Driver does it. The movie is a sharply edited syncopation of music and image in service of a smart pop screenplay. Get thee to a theater, my friends, and enjoy the ride.
Baby Driver’s story is about a getaway driver who perpetually wears earbuds and listens to music. His tunes are the click-track to his driving and enable him to slickly out maneuver whoever is chasing him. He wants out of the getaway game, but has to do one last job to earn his freedom, as is customary in heist films. Also as is customary, there are complications, and Baby’s resolve to leave his thieving ways behind him is tested mightily.
But that’s about all that is “customary” about Baby Driver. As in his previous films, writer/director Edgar Wright seems to relish the chance to not just make a genre film but to play with the genre’s conceits. The appeal of the heist film is in watching the precision with which the crooks conduct their caper and escape capture. The appeal of the chase film is in the visceral thrill of watching death be narrowly dodged. Edgar Wright sets both these cinematic treats to rollicking rock and roll, using the music to not just score the action but to determine its rhythm. It’s more exact than what we’re used to seeing and hearing, and the effect is propulsive. Edgar Wright is working with editors Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss here, as he has in each of his films since Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and their team’s skill is clear.
Wright also again does something which I love in Baby Driver that he has done in all his previous films – he continues the story past the point where most other movies would end. He shows the effects of these events on the characters. There are consequences in Edgar Wright’s stories for everything the characters do, and I mean “consequences” in both the cause/effect and moral senses of the word. Nothing is wasted. He is faithful to play out the logical and ethical ramifications of his characters’ actions. His stories have weight, so even though we are watching a terrifically entertaining, cinematic spectacle, it feels like it matters.
I don’t have to draw out some profound moral from Baby Driver. “Crime doesn’t pay, but kindness does,” is baked into the genre itself. It’s enlivening to see it treated with respect though. Wright seems to realize that genres are more than systematized formal conventions, narrative structures, and character types. Genres are moral systems too.