Warning: Major Spoilers Follow
Edgar Wright is someone who's in love with his job as a filmmaker, which has shown in every film he's made thus far. This love affair continues with his latest film Baby Driver. The film's story involves familiar genre archetypes: a getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) who wants to quit the life of crime, the crime boss (Kevin Spacey) who reels him in for another job, the waitress with whom our hero wants to run away (Lily James) and the assortment of criminals along for the ride (Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, and Jamie Foxx). It's an old song but performed with genuine style, charm and heart.
Speaking of songs, Baby Driver can be best described as a film noir musical. This is because our hero-Baby- listens to music while heists are being pulled off and when he's out-driving the police. He also records conversations and makes songs out of them. The film as an extension of Baby's mindset; Wright shot and edited the action sequences to the music, creating a unique synthesis of sound and visuals that's organic to the film's universe.
We learn Baby listens to music constantly due to a childhood car accident which left with him a constant humming in his right ear. The same accident also killed both his musician mother (Sky Ferreira) and father (Lance Palmer). When he was still a kid, Baby stole from Spacey's Doc. Doc was so impressed that he's used Baby for every heist. Baby is in debt to Doc and is due to retire after one more heist. Like Ryan Gosling's unnamed character in Drive Baby is great at his job but still strikes others as odd. Griff (Jon Bernthal) and Foxx's Bats are antagonistic towards him. However, due to his youth several of the criminals treat him as a surrogate son or little brother.
Hamm and Gonzalez's Bonnie and Clyde married couple Buddy and Darling treat him with a kind of bemusement- not quite affection but a certain level of respect. Baby has a complicated relationship with Doc, who is part extorter/part father figure to Baby. Spacey is one of the best actors at doing quiet menace while being darkly funny. When he brings Baby back in to the fold after debts had supposedly been settled Doc casually remarks that he could cripple Baby and kill everyone he loves if Baby doesn't keep working for him; it's this scene where Baby realizes how much he's still in Doc's grip- and desperately needs a way out.
While James Debora and the whole love story between her and Baby is somewhat underwritten, she and Elgort's chemistry makes the relationship very pleasurable to watch unfold. Wright understands that there's a inherent romanticism inherent in noir- wanting to drive away with a beautiful woman, turning your back on the world of violence and greed- and he portrays the romance in an idealized fashion. The movie believes two people can be brought together by music. I get the impression that Baby sees something of his mother in Debora- a memory of a happier time when he felt protected. Debora and Darling are notably the two major female characters in the film and they are deliberately contrasted. Darling isn't quite a femme fatale but she's certainly a more dangerous and sexual figure than Debora- who projects a virginal innocence. And while Gonzalez is younger than James, Darling does come across as older and seasoned woman.
While Baby may see his mother in Debora, fatherhood an important aspect of this film. I mentioned that Doc is a twisted version of a father figure; but the man Baby views as a father in the film is foster father, Joe (C.J. Jones), who is deaf and whom Baby looks after, being a father of sorts to Joe. This relationship is perhaps the most touching in the film and helps make Baby a more sympathetic character.
While the movie is using well-worn genre tropes, it also manages to subvert expectations- particularly regarding certain characters. Bats is killed before the third act even though he was being built up as possibly the major antagonist of the film. It's actually Buddy who becomes the villain in the finale of the film. We understand Buddy's motivations- Darling is killed by the police after Baby intentionally ruining the heist. We see that Buddy and Darling's love was as or even more genuine than Baby and Debora's. Unlike other noir heroes- Baby lives at the end of the film- but the film doesn't escape tragedy if you look at the film from Buddy's point of view. This makes ending's romanticized reunion of Baby and Debora- after Baby gets out of prison- ironic considering the fact Baby is partly responsible the death of a man's wife.
Hamm- who became famous for his portrayal of Don Draper on the TV show Mad Men- has in his film roles avoided Draper-esque characters. Instead he's played the good-looking doofus (Bridesmaids), rugged detective (The Town), and a doctor who specializes in lobotomies (Sucker Punch). Hamm's smooth grizzled-ness makes Buddy a distinct personality and a character who could likely carry his own movie.
I do want to talk about Elgort's casting in the role of Baby. Elgort first came to audiences' attention with his role in the teen romance The Fault in Our Stars alongside Shailene Woodley, whom he also co-starred with in the Divergent franchise. His casting as a slick getaway driver would appear to be a case of miscasting. But it ends up working due to how Elgort's image as an actor in Young Adult-orientated films offers a humorous contrast to the noir archetype he's playing; at the same Elgort's offbeat stoicism makes him believable as this odd but cool getaway driver. The opening scene establishes the relationship between Baby and his music, how he grooves to it even as a dangerous heist is occurring.
I don't know where I'd rank Baby Driver in the Wright Pantheon, particularly since I still need to re-watch most of his work- but it clearly shows a director high on the joy of making movies and pushing himself as an artist, which makes what he'll do next always very exciting.