In some ways, Baby Driver gets off to a shaky start, dropping us into the first bank job right away. While the eponymous Baby (Ansel Elgort) jams with his earbuds in (his means of combating tinnitus from a childhood accident), his passengers strap up and stride through the doors, stepping in time to the music like a perverse music video. When they come racing back, we are treated to some phenomenal stunt driving, with Wrights assurances that no CGI or green screen was used, only practical stunts. As baby puts the stolen Subaru through its paces though, with all the attendant roaring of engine and screeching of tires you can't help but wonder how he intends to get away. And here's a tip: maybe you would blend into a crowd more if you didn't dress so much like Han Solo?
But what kind of fun would that be? And so, when a fortuitous situation allows Baby to execute a vehicular version of Three-Card Monte, it doesn't feel too far fetched. Likewise when he bops down the street to the coffee shop the next day, lyrics from Harlem Shuffle periodically appearing in graffiti on the walls behind him, in an unbroken shot that took over twenty takes.
Soon afterwards, we meet the mastermind behind the robberies, Doc, played with equal amounts friendliness and ruthlessness by Kevin Spacey. In short order, we discover Baby's indebtedness, as well as the deaf and wheelchair-bound foster father he is attending to, piling caregiver on top of a heap of other tropes, including Mickey Mousing, Indentured Servitude, and One Last Job. And we aren't even into the second act yet!
But that's okay, and I will tell you why: because after it sets the stage, Wright uses all the tools from all the genres at his disposal in a balanced fashion, never playing the grittiness of a classic crime pic at the expense of the magical realism of a musical, and vice versa. Wright ratchets up the dramatic and emotional tension throughout the film, teasing out bits of the backstory, throwing a couple of curve balls in and never making it really clear what the endgame can possibly be. Can we get a happy ending out of this? Mmmmmaybe, but how?!?
Doc changes up the crews for most of the jobs he plans, but Jamie Foxx stands out as Bats, a calculating yet unpredictable career criminal. Any heist film will have its fair share of planning scenes, where a lot of the tension can be allowed to leak away, but this is rarely the case when he and Kevin Spacey are on the screen together, verbally jousting for credibility in front of the others.
Cynical viewers are likely to be left cold by the retro appeal of the diner where Baby meets his love interest Debora, or the cheesiness of having five gunshots timed to the beat of the guitar riffs in Hocus Pocus by Focus, or even Baby's nickname, but it all worked for me. Music and fantasy play key roles in all Edgar Wright's movies, from Shaun of the Dead to this one, and he makes great, confident use of both of them throughout. (And before you ask: yes, of course I have already ordered the 2-disc soundtrack from Amazon.)
Pretty much all heist movies are fantasies; at least Baby Driver is honest about it. What's important though is that the motivations and reactions throughout the film never seem forced or contrived, and the resolutions always feel earned.
Look, I don't know if anyone will ever make a better robbery movie than Michael Mann's Heat anyways, so do yourself a favour and check out Baby Driver in the meantime. The performances, dialogue and dramatic tension measure up with that classic, but the driving and music and imagination are even better.