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Dustin Putman

Baby Driver  (2017)
3½ Stars
Directed by Edgar Wright.
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, CJ Jones, Jon Bernthal, Lanny Joon, Flea, Sky Ferreira, Brogan Hall, Allison King, Big Boi, Hudson Meek.
2017 – minutes
Rated: Rated R (for violence including some bloody images and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, June 7, 2017.
"Baby Driver" is a high-wire, hyper-cool, adrenaline-fueled fusion of music, action and ecstasy. To be sure, there have been countless past heist pictures and plenty of movies driven by their soundtracks, but there has never been anything quite like what writer-director Edgar Wright (2010's "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World") has accomplished. Entirely original and intoxicatingly fluid, the film begins with a great lead character—one worthy of becoming iconic in the modern cinematic lexicon—and then gives him a talent behind the wheel and an array of iPods and sunglasses among his accessorized arsenal. Baby (Ansel Elgort), you see, was in a car accident as a child and suffers from tinnitus—"a hum in the drum," as crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) describes it. He began using music to drown it out, and now an endless playlist accompanies his life, as natural as eating and sleeping.

When a tune is playing, Baby feels like he can do just about anything. Anything, that is, except cut ties with Doc, the shady mastermind behind a wave of uncatchable Atlanta robberies. Decked out with a revolving door of thieves but only one constant—that would be Baby, who acts as his can't-fail getaway driver—he keeps the quirky young man tightly under his thumb. Baby wants none of it—he has fallen for diner waitress Debora (Lily James) and hopes to hit the open road with her—but his belief that he has paid his dues proves oh-so-wrong as Doc pulls him back in for their latest job of pilfering millions of dollars in money orders at the U.S. Post Office.

"Baby Driver" happily subverts expectations at practically every turn. Ultra-violent yet romantically swoon-worthy, the film revs to a sustained crescendo of propulsive car chases, mesmerizing choreography, and irresistible song cuts. Just as everything is at stake for Baby, so is the film's balancing act of performance, editing and sound design. One false move in regard to these three critical elements and all could collapse. Nothing ever does. The opening credits, following Baby as he grooves to Bob & Earl's "Harlem Shuffle" while heading down the street to get a cup of coffee, is a blissful tour de force, layered all the more with the song lyrics strategically dropped like Easter eggs throughout the shots. This sequence, following a sensational opening getaway chase scored to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's "Bellbottoms," sets the auspicious stage for what is to follow. Baby is not proud of the line of work he's found himself, and he wants out. "One more job and we're done," Baby says to Doc, hoping to confirm what he believes was their agreement. "One more job and we're straight," his boss clarifies. It's easy to backburner one's conscience if there's no one new to influence it, but then Debora swings into his life singing Carla Thomas' "B-A-B-Y" and all bets are off.

Ansel Elgort (2014's "Men, Women & Children") has been in hit films before, among them 2014's "The Fault in Our Stars" and the ill-fated "Divergent" series, but his lead role as Baby feels like his indisputable breakthrough. The supporting players are jazzy terrifics—among them, Kevin Spacey's (2014's "Horrible Bosses 2") stern yet watchful Doc; Jon Hamm (2014's "Million Dollar Arm") and Eiza González (2015's "Jem and the Holograms") as married thieves Buddy and Darling, and Jamie Foxx (2014's "Annie") as the restless, unpredictable Bats—but this is Elgort's movie through and through, and he owns it. Modest and magnetic, driving and styling to his own literal beat, Elgort's Baby is unapologetically himself, take it or leave it. He is a true original, and the connection he forms with Debora is the beating heart at its center. In her diner uniform, Lily James (2015's "Cinderella") is a dead ringer for 1990-era Madchen Amick in "Twin Peaks," so she's already got that on her side. What's more, James is a disarming delight, affectingly playing a down-to-earth young woman looking for a way out of her dead-end existence and seeing in Baby a future she was never sure was possible.

Many films which start at such a heightened level of energy as "Baby Driver" eventually wear out their welcome and lose steam in the third act. This one keeps upping the ante—the stakes, the tension, the unquenchable action—clear through to a wholly satisfying if admittedly idealistic conclusion. There is a single narrative blunder in the second hour, an irksome choice Baby makes that compromises his quick-thinking intelligence; whereas the rest of the picture is nothing less than organic, operating on an elevated, deliciously savvy plane, this one scene feels like a requirement of the screenplay rather than a natural extension of what has preceded it. It's a minor blip in a totally fresh, brazenly constructed motion picture, as cinematically alive as just about anything yet seen in 2017. Accompanied by the memory of his late mother's (Sky Ferreira) angelic voice—The Commodores' "Easy," arguably overused in movie, strikes a sublime emotional chord here—Baby knows he is in too deep but guided by his own moral code to protect those who are good and whom he cares about. That's all he can do, and he hopes it's enough. With "Baby Driver," Edgar Wright has made something truly dazzling, a unique rhythm of storytelling that feels entirely his own.
© 2017 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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