‘I’ On Culture
For a change, we have a great summer movie without superheroes. Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is a great heist film that manages to have a sweetness at its core surrounded by a troupe of well-acted psychos. For a relatively modest cost, it has as much (and far more fun) action as many of the very expensive blockbusters that turned into duds.
Right from the start, we have a great car chase sequence. Most of those in recent years have been boring. The ones here (in Atlanta) are great. Baby (Ansel Elgort) is the title character, a wheelman extraordinaire. Wearing headphones filled with music to drown out the tinnitus (ringing in the ears) that he contracted from a childhood auto accident that claimed his parents’ lives, he seems to inhabit the music world, even driving to the rhythms of his many iPods.
He is the one standing member of theft teams created by Doc (Kevin Spacey) that do incredible smash-and-grab thefts and then get away thanks to Baby’s driving. Baby does not enjoy it, but has at one point in the past broken into Doc’s car, which cost a huge amount of money, and must pay back his debt through work.
We see Baby, often treated as if he were a fool because of the earplugs always in his ears as well as his general reticence, carefully trying to avoid confrontations. His one true relationship is with his deaf foster father, Joseph (CJ Jones), who worries about the source of the money he brings home. Then Baby meets Debora (Lily James), a sweet waitress who seems to love music as much as he does, and he lets himself go a bit, even dreaming about getting away.
But he has jobs he must do for Doc, learning that even after they “are even” — because his share of the jobs has paid for the losses he gave Doc — they are not through. Much of the second half of the film focuses on a job that involves Bats (Jamie Foxx), a violent psycho barely under control at any time, Buddy (Jon Hamm), a slightly more even-tempered killer, and Darling (Eiza González), as crazy as she is beautiful.
Baby wants out, does not get out, but winds up in a series of stylized adventures.
The great thing about the film is that it has a fabulous cast. Yes, there are great action sequences, but every actor in the film seems perfectly cast. Elgort is so sweet that even as he goes through the violence, you want him to be safe. You want him to be able to get away and live a nice, long life with his Debora.
James portrays his girlfriend not only as nice, but as interesting, something not often done in a small role. Spacey is excellent, very restrained, dry as dust, as the planner who keeps Baby on the string. Foxx, allowed free rein as the violent Bats, is appropriately scary and nasty.
González took what might have been a throwaway part and holds her own in the acting derby against all the award-winning performers. Hamm has by far the most balanced role. A former stockbroker who went wild and now lives through crime and his love for Darling, he seems to be Baby’s closest supporter until things come apart.
Special mention should go to a few people in smaller roles. CJ Jones actually is deaf, and he uses his gestures beautifully. There are subtitles, but the depth of feeling shown is lovely. Brogan Hall as Doc’s nephew walks away with the scenes he’s in. Paul Williams was great as “the Butcher” in a cameo.
Top-level acting makes an enormous difference in this kind of film. We get caught up in the people, not just the action. The sweetness of the romance between the two young leads manages to last despite the violence around them.
And a salute should be given to the music. Much of the action and even romance comes off to the music in Baby’s head. It gives a different spin on the events. Baby is a criminal, but he’s a sweet one. People die, there are car crashes and fights, but he is a kind of almost-innocent center.
In a summer of blockbusters, this is a charming, well-done film. While the language and violence make it a reach for young kids, pretty much everyone else will like it. I highly recommend it.