From the “rom-zom-com” antics of Shaun of the Dead to the comparatively somber and self-reflective The World’s End, Edgar Wright has always specialized in remixes, dissections, and deconstructions. In many ways, then, Baby Driver feels like a departure: unlike the more subversive work that preceded it, it is unapologetically straightforward—a stripped-down, old-fashioned heist movie with a romantic subplot.
Which isn’t to say it’s completely conventional: even as he explores the familiar tropes of the genre, Wright tells his tale with precision, economy, and an abundance of personality and style. Baby is a wonderfully nuanced and multifaceted protagonist, dancing and singing exuberantly amongst friends and loved ones, but affecting a detached, aloof persona in the company of his fellow criminals. The various supporting crooks, cutthroats, and killers, meanwhile, fit more neatly into recognizable archetypes, but are all complex enough to remain memorable (especially Jon Hamm’s charismatic Buddy, Kevin Spacey’s cheerfully sinister Doc, and Jamie Foxx’s willfully psychotic Bats)—some of their character arcs even take a few unexpected swerves.
Where Baby Driver truly excels, though, is in its immaculate rhythm. Like Sergio Leone and the craftsmen behind the chanbara classics, Wright seems to instinctively know exactly how a visual story should flow. His direction has exhibited a musical quality since at least as far back as the rapidly-edited transitions in Shaun of the Dead, and here, he takes that proclivity to its logical conclusion, staging his car chases and shootouts as elaborate dances, finding balletic beauty and grace amidst the chaos and bloodshed.
Really, Wright makes the entire breathless thrill ride feel like the culmination of everything he’s learned over the course of his career, blending the sly and subtle humor of the Cornetto Trilogy, the magical realism of Scott Pilgrim, and the compelling characterization of The World’s End into a cinematic experience that is at once wholly original and uniquely, unmistakably his own. And, most impressively (and refreshingly), he manages to do so without the slightest hint of ego or self-importance. In a day and age when even I’m forced to admit that certain auteurs prioritize flaunting their cleverness over presenting a coherent narrative, this makes him a rare and special breed, indeed.
[Originally written July 11, 2017.]