Tuesday, July 4, 2017

"Baby Driver"

                                ☆☆☆½                              


Baby Driver crackles with the fire and energy of something new and completely unexpected, a dizzying combination of crime thriller and musical, a pairing that shouldn't work but succeeds at almost every level.

Writer-director Edgar Wright balances his film precariously on a high wire between inspiration and insanity, and keeps it beautifully tilted toward the former with an audacious mix of cinematic genres that makes Baby Driver such a shocking surprise.

Its opening sequence alone is worth savoring, a daring bank robbery set to a propulsive rock song that getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) uses to fuel his escape.  It's like watching the kind of music video they don't make anymore, but with impossible-to-believe stunts and adrenaline-pumping action.  But this isn't even the most impressive sequence in the film's first few minutes, because it gives way to a stunningly conceived, intricately choreographed title scene that shows the main character doing little more than walking down the street ... but with such dazzling moves that it belongs in a musical.

Baby is just a kid in his early 20s, but he's already got a long history that involves dead parents, a foster father (CJ Jones) and a big debt to pay off to an Atlanta criminal (Kevin Spacey) who has a penchant for daring robberies and even more daring getaways.  That's why he has turned to Baby, whose own fascination with cars is inextricably intertwined with his love of music.  He's always listening to something -- he doesn't just have playlists, he has entire iPods for different moods.  There's a reason he listens to music all the time, one that is integral to the plot of Baby Driver, but to give it away would be borderline treasonous -- this is a movie audiences are best left to discover for themselves.

As the plot thickens with an assortment of criminals -- including some really sleazy characters played by Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm and Elza Gonzalez -- Baby meets a waitress (Lily James) who senses that the boy's mysterious job as a "driver" is turning him into a bad boy when he really only wants to be good.  That's one of the most engaging conceits in Baby Driver: No matter how much Baby keeps getting pushed into a life of crime, he resists.

But he can't completely ignore the heavy-handed urgings of his less-than-savory associates, and that conflict propels the film's plot while music -- an endlessly inventive array of songs and tracks -- propel its action and its visuals.

There's a moment when Baby Driver threatens to lose what made it special and devolve into a standard crime thriller, but director Wright catches it just before it falls and pushes it back onto that high wire to find a climax that's as heart-stopping and as engaging as the rest of the movie, even when it turns to over-the-top violence that feels excessive yet entirely earned.  Its good-guy-versus-bad-guy showdown strains under its excessiveness -- it's the one bit of the film that needs scaling back -- but it never breaks.

Elgort is one of the biggest reasons why.  As the peach-fuzz-faced Baby of the title, he's the beating heart of the film, and he's dazzling in a role that's alternately showy and low-key.  Baby doesn't say much, but he almost always knows exactly what he's doing.  Elgort is charming and in command of the complex role, especially in his flirtation scenes with James as his love interest and his tender moments with Jones as a deaf-mute father figure who loves the boy desperately.

Baby Driver begins with a sly intent to excite our senses but finishes with an emotionally resonant flourish.  Everything Wright has learned from a life of loving and making movies he puts to impressive use in Baby Driver, which uses an extraordinary array of cinematic tricks to convey both plot and character.  The movie tells its story in such a breezy fashion, and makes it look so incredibly easy, that it seems a bit of a shock to get to the end of the film and find that it resonates not just on a visceral level but an emotional one.  Crime thrillers aren't generally known for having complex, meaningful characters, yet Baby Driver delivers exactly that: In Baby it finds a hero who's a real rarity in an age of instant sequels -- he's a character we'd like to see again; Baby Driver leaves you wishing you knew what happens after the credits roll.

That's a rare feat for any film, but then, few movies are as inventive, daring and downright appealing as this.




Viewed July 4, 2017 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks

1330

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