by Alan Yudman
A couple of definitions.
A musical is a film that uses music and song to help tell the story.
An action movie features stunts or set pieces that illustrated the obstacles the characters must overcome to reach their goal.
So, a musical action movie? Edgar Wright has re-written the rules in his new movie BABY DRIVER. In a traditional musical the actors sing the songs. In this case, the songs are woven into the plot of the movie. It’s not random. Not, “wow, that song sounds good”. It’s precise choices made by Wright to fit moods and then he choreographs the action to fit the songs. It’s a brilliant display of innovation. In lesser hands this may not have worked, but the man who co-created the “Cornetto Trilogy” (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ and THE WORLD’S END) has a special gift for make the absurd feel mainstream.
Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver. The character is set up in the first sequence when he puts on “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and drives three bank robbers (Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez) from the scene of the crime is a manic, innovative sequence. You see Baby is an orphan. A man whose youthful appearance fits his nickname. He suffers from tinnitus and uses iPods to block out the noise. He works for Doc (Kevin Spacey), who hires the crews and plans the capers. Baby owes Doc and is nearly done paying him off. But as alway in these kind of movies, there’s one last job to pull before Baby can get out. And he wants out because he has fallen for a waitress (Lily James) and they just want to “drive west on Highway 20 in a car they can’t afford with a plan they don’t have”.
The obstacle in his plans isn’t the crime, it’s the criminals. Specifically Bats (Jamie Foxx) who lives up to his nickname.
Wright has cast the movie perfectly. Elgort’s young and pouty face give him an innocence. The rest of the characters are highly stylized. Spacey is the tough but smart brains. Bernthal and Hamm are toughs. Gonzalez is the sexy bad girl. But it’s Foxx that takes the character and makes him truly outrageous. It is a great performance. Not subtle in any way, but perfectly over the top. There’s also a great small part for Paul Williams as an weapons dealer.
Wright has said he began writing this movie years ago. He loves all these songs he’s picked for the movie and it shows in the way he has worked to choreograph and edit the scenes. The action is almost musical without the music (a signature of any Edgar Wright film), but adding the songs just ramps it up to another wonderful level. Oh, and those songs… wow! This is a fantastic movie soundtrack!
Great filmmaking does not always have to be about message. i mean in this movie it’s clear… don’t be a criminal and love can overcome anything. Sometimes a truly great artist can take a simple concept and elevate it through sheer force of talent. That is what we are looking at here. Edgar Wright has mashed up and blown up two genres with BABY DRIVER. And we are the recipients of his special genius.