Sometimes a film is just so ambitious and so expertly executed that you can’t help but be in awe of how perfectly it is pulled off. Edgar Wright has always been a supremely talented filmmaker, but stepping out from his usual forays in the action-comedy genre and making something that I can only think to describe as an action jukebox musical is a bold change of pace that was always going to be seen as experimental and risky, even from the mind that brought us Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim. But Baby Driver works on just about every conceivable level, and it is a damn fun and intense thrill ride as a result.
The set-up is actually deceptively simple: Baby (Ansel Elgort) is an extremely gifted getaway driver indebted to a crime boss (Kevin Spacey) who keeps him doing heists even as he hates the potential for violence and collateral damage the heists cause. Just as his debt is about to be paid off, he meets a waitress named Deborah (Lily James), and of course the two immediately fall in love. However, just as Baby starts to think that maybe he can build a life on the straight and narrow with the woman of his dreams, he gets pulled back in to a life of crime, placing both Baby and Deborah in danger of never escaping the world of guns, money, and fast cars.
That deceptively simple premise serves as a template for the film’s central gimmick: Baby suffers from tinnitus, a constant ringing of the ears which he drowns out with constant music from his collection of iPods that sets the tone and tempo of his life. Therefore, the audience, through Baby’s eyes and ears, experiences the world as a fantastical audio-visual mash-up of musical cues and events synced to those cues. In a masterful combination of cinematography, editing, and sound mixing, cars skid to instrumental riffs, characters shoot lines that coincide with lyrics, guns fire on beat, and the film plays like a much more purposeful and eclectic version of playing Dark Side of the Moon over The Wizard of Oz.
This in turn makes Baby Driver a love letter to the ways in which music informs and influences our lives, manipulating us into context appropriate moods, elevating those moods in times of torment, and blowing us away with the raw power of emotion that music evokes. This is set against some of the most daring and visually inventive car stunts and gunplay I’ve ever seen put to film, and it’s a non-stop roller coaster of thrills from cold open to end credits. Pair this with a remarkably clever script steeped in cooler-than-thou witticisms and left field comic slaps delivered by a remarkably strong supporting cast, including Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, and Eiza González, and you have a film that it would be disingenuous to call anything short of a technical masterpiece.
And unfortunately, that’s about all one can say without either spoiling the funniest or most emotionally impactful moments, and words will never do justice to the immense joy of watching the spectacular musical action setpieces. Baby Driver is constantly full of surprises, with a third act that zigs when you expect it to zag, and it all comes at you so fast that your head will be spinning as your smile is planted firmly in place. And likewise, Baby Driver itself has turned out to be one of the most joyous surprises of the summer. It’s a truly unique marvel that sets a new and incredibly high bar for how we pair music to film. Load up your iPod, stick in your earbuds, and prepare for one hell of a ride.