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SXSW 2017 Review | ‘Baby Driver’, I Love Your Way

In celebration of Baby Driver’s release on Digital, we revisit Crave’s resident film content editor and critic William Bibbiani’s first-look SXSW review of Edgar Wright’s modern action classic!

The year is 2017 and by now it’s a hackneyed cliché to compare action movie violence to choreographed musical dance numbers. But it’s one thing to occasionally swoop your gun-laden arms around you in majestic slow-motion while pigeons freak out and flee the premises, and it’s another to actually choreograph an entire car chase movie to a mixtape made from a particularly eclectic Morning Becomes Eclectic.

Edgar Wright understands the difference. His new film Baby Driver is borne from the hardboiled heist flicks of Michael Mann, the exaggerated realities of Walter Hill, and the colourful toe-tappings of a Stanley Donen flick. You’ve probably seen the plot of this heist movie before – one last job and he’s out, etc. – but the execution is something else, something experimental and infectious, and something that’s going to sell a heck of a lot of soundtracks.

Ansel Elgort is Baby (yes, that’s his real name). He’s a cherubic wheelman who owes a ton of money to Doc, a criminal mastermind played by Kevin Spacey. Baby has been working off his debt as a getaway driver for one elaborate heist after another, staying far away from the violence and gliding through the vehicular obstacles in a series of impressive stunts. When we first meet him, Baby seems to represent the typical “badass” Hollywood fantasy: young, handsome, great at his job, and with a job that most of the audience will probably think is pretty cool.

Baby needs tunes, though. He suffers from serious tinnitus and drowns out the ringing in his ears with loudly cranked music from his many, many iPods. The sound of his silence is pop hits, b-sides and obscure oddities. Have you ever driven down the street listening to a song and noticed that the world around you seems to have keyed into the rhythm, and you felt for a brief moment like you were the subject of a music video? That’s practically every second of Baby’s life, to the extent that he can’t even do his dangerous, every-moment-counts job unless exactly the right song is accompanying him.

Edgar Wright takes this little quirk, the sort of character trait most writers would toss into a script and then promptly forget about (see also: Fantastic Four), and he builds an entire world around it. When Baby is happy the seedy graffiti matches the lyrics of his jams. When he’s in love with a personable waitress (Lily James), the clothing that spins behind them at a laundromat is colourful and bouncing. It looks as though the costumes from La La Land couldn’t help themselves and started two-stepping right in the middle of their baths along with T. Rex’s “Debora.” When an illegal arms deal goes south the bullets hit flesh to the tune of “Tequila,” turning an otherwise fun time into a nightmare.

Sony Pictures

Because the thing is, Baby isn’t a hero. He isn’t a wish-fulfilment character. He doesn’t realize (until it’s too late) that just because he isn’t hardened yet, doesn’t mean he’s not a criminal. Soon enough the violence of Doc’s heists – enacted by unstable cronies played by Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm and Eiza González – is getting completely out of control. There’s no moral high ground for Baby to take. Baby chose this path and Baby’s going to have to drive straight to the end of it. Fortunately, he’s a damn good driver and he’s got one hell of a playlist selected.

Baby Driver is, again, in many ways a conventional heist movie, full of all the old heist movie chestnuts. But it’s also a music movie, an ambitious and unusual one. When these two seemingly disparate elements work together they create a strange alchemy. At its best Baby Driver is one of the most distinctive and exciting movies of its ilk, with absolutely phenomenal action and a beat you can dance to. At its worst, the film merely has to spin its wheels for a bit so the plot can go through the familiar motions (mistrust, revenge, etc.), and even then it’s only a matter of time before Baby starts driving again. Boy, that Baby can drive.

Sony Pictures

Whereas films like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz found a fresh, beating heart inside the milieu of genres that’s been done to death, Baby Driver leaves the ticker of the heist and car chase movies alone and takes a defibrillator to the overall style. Maybe Edgar Wright’s film could have had more emotional impact if Baby’s character arc didn’t feel so conventional. Then again, maybe Wright’s style is so broadly experimental that audiences will need some tried-and-true storytelling landmarks just to orient themselves.

But maybe – and this is my personal theory – Baby Driver is exactly what it needs to be. This movie is exhilarating, a super cool and ultra groovy heist flick that uses music the way the rest of us use air, and an instant candidate for one of the best car chase movies ever. What more could you possibly ask for? (Other than the soundtrack, of course.)

Baby Driver is out now on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital.

15 Amazing Movies That Made SXSW a Big Deal:

Joshua Oppenheimer's unique and horrifying documentary gives camera equipment to the perpetrators of the Indonesian genocide, and invites them to make a movie about the hundreds of thousands (or more) people they killed, by hand. The way they choose to present their unthinkable actions speaks volumes about the depths of human depravity, and the disturbing things that human beings can do when they are given permission by the government, society and themselves.

Photo: Drafthouse Films

Christopher Plummer won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Beginners, a sensitive comedy-drama in which he plays a man who finally comes out of the closet in his seventies. 

Photo: Focus Features

Richard Linklater's ambitious Oscar-winning drama was filmed over the course of 12 years, so that his young cast and the adults around them could age naturally over the course of the film. Boyhood would have been a brilliant coming of age story anyway, but the visual effect of watching the actors grow older in front of your eyes makes it absolutely hypnotic. 

Photo: IFC Films

The blockbuster Oscar-nominee that changed the way Hollywood looked at female ensemble films screened early at SXSW, where it become one of many big studio comedies to try their luck with the crowd in Austin, TX. (Other noteworthy comedies to debut at SXSW include I Love You Man21 Jump Street and Trainwreck.)

Photo: Universal Pictures

Drew Goddard's brilliant comedy, co-written by Joss Whedon, flipped the script on the whole horror genre, and changed the way every other "cabin in the woods" thriller will be looked at until the end of time.

Photo: Lionsgate

Jon Favreau took a break from blockbusters by writing, directing and starring in this cult hit indie about a successful chef who goes back to basics and gets himself a food truck. The metaphor - eschewing an industrial complex and going back what you loved about the art form in the first place - is particularly poignant against the backdrop of the independent film festival.

Photo: Open Road Films

This disturbing drama from Yorgos Lanthimos, about children raised in isolation and instilled with strange ideas about the outside world, earned rave reviews and an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film.

Photo: Feelgood Entertainment

Alex Garland's damning sci-fi drama about artificial intelligence and the dangers of misogyny stars Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson as men who are trying to figure out what's going on inside the brain of a female robot, played by Alicia Vikander. Intelligent, vicious, Oscar-winning filmmaking.

Photo: Universal Pictures

Kathryn Bigelow's suspenseful drama about a bomb disposal unit in the Iraq war eventually won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, and turned Jeremy Renner into a major movie star.

Photo: Summit Entertainment

Karyn Kusama directs one of the most acclaimed horror movies in years, a subtle thriller about a man invited to his ex-wife's house for dinner, who begins to suspect that something is going very, very wrong. He can't quite put his finger on it, and neither can you. Dread rarely feels this dreadfully exciting.

Photo: Drafthouse Films

Audiences are still waiting for a great film based on a video game, but The King of Kong proves that great movies can at least be made about them. Seth Gordon's documentary looks at people who have dedicated their lives to beating the high score at Donkey Kong. By the end of the film you'll care about their quest almost as much as they do.

Photo: Picturehouse

Duncan Jones made a huge splash at SXSW with Moon, an ambitious low-budget sci-fi film starring Sam Rockwell as the only man stationed on the moon's surface, falling prey to loneliness until an unexpected discovery makes him question everything about his existence. Funny, emotional, brilliant.

Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

One of the most propulsive action movies ever made, The Raid is the story of a SWAT team trapped in a high-rise full of criminals who want to kill them. It's a non-stop, expertly choreographed action thriller that raised the bar for just about every fight movie that followed.

Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

One of the most acclaimed dramas of 2013 stars Brie Larson as a woman helping teenagers at group home. The film won multiple prizes and shot Brie Larson to upper echelons of talented young actors in Hollywood.

Photo: Cinedigm

Harmony Korine's sexy, sleazy, seductive, disgusting, celebratory and finger-wagging drama about college girls who go to Mexico for spring break and decide to never leave is one of the most distinctive and lauded films of the decade. James Franco gives the performance of a lifetime as their boyfriend, drug dealer and surreal gang leader, Alien.

Photo: A24
Top Photo: Sony Pictures

William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.