Director Edgar Wright Tears up Atlanta to his own Beat
DIRECTED BY EDGAR WRIGHT/2017
JIM TUDOR: Who’s the star of the pulsating new contemporary crime yarn, Baby Driver? With a top line cast guaranteed to turn heads, it would be entirely forgivable for one to assume that the film’s stars are Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, or Jon Hamm. They’re not.
Any measure of closer inspection will reveal the true lead actors are in fact Divergent saga star Ansel Elgort and Cinderella herself, the completely charming Lily James. Elgort plays Baby, a professional getaway car driver who’s key to success is his complete immersion into his earbud music. They’re not the film’s real stars, either. But they are the ones to root for onscreen. For Baby, and subsequently for we the viewers along for the wild ride, the whole world of the movie moves, breathes, and gyrates to his choice beats. Some may call this synthesis “magical realism” or bent reality; I call it expert filmmaking.
Which brings us to the true, undeniable star of this particular show – filmmaker Edgar Wright. Having previously rattled our cages with his genre-bending Simon Pegg-led ”Cornetto Trilogy” Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, not to mention the frenetically brilliant Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, is it any surprise that his new film is a highly satisfying rip-roaring ball of kinetic energy?
Baby Driver does for cars and rock n’ roll what Scott Pilgrim did for video games and teen angst. Toss in a rightful dose of genuine pathos, and is it any surprise that we just might well be talking about Edgar Wright’s best film yet?
ERIK YATES: After our screening at Houston’s Alamo Drafthouse, Wright did a Q&A live from the Brooklyn, NY Alamo Drafthouse. It was easy to see that this film has long been gestating in his mind, over twenty years actually, and the passions he has for this story are all evidenced on screen.
This film is pulsating, fast and direct, with a tight story that provides the right amount of character development without getting bogged down in the details. Edgar Wright consulted with many ex-cons to make the dialogue, situations, and details as authentic as possible. Many of these advisers saw their direct lines make it into the script.
This film is pulsating, fast and direct, with a tight story that provides the right amount of character development without getting bogged down in the details.
As you mentioned, the cast is superb, and features maybe the best Jon Hamm role yet, as he tries to transition from TV’s Mad Men to the big screen. The real star of Baby Driver, though, is the soundtrack! Wright told a funny story about how carefully he guarded the songs, even texting with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 director James Gunn to compare what artists each were using in their film without showing their hand as to which specific songs. The one that drives the film, and was the catalyst for Edgar Wright penning this script (the first solo script he’s done-at least that he will take credit for) is the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms”.
Wright deftly integrates each song into every scene, not just for the atmosphere of the scene, but as an integral part of the story. Likewise, Baby plans his every move in each heist down to the second, carefully choosing the perfect song to coordinate his actions. Wright wrote each scene and action set piece to match the length of each song in much the same way. In one segment during filming, the stunt choreographer told Wright that the scene would take longer to play out than the song he wanted to use to guide the scene. Wright compensates by having the song get cut-off in the middle of the action on-screen and provides an organic way for Baby to restart the song mid-scene at the same place it was stopped so that by the time the song ends, so does the scene.
It’s quite impressive when you consider the director’s passion, and how he thought about and wrote into each scene every last detail of this story over 20 years. Such details are lovingly placed throughout this film, and helps to provide one of the most fun cinematic experiences I’ve had this year. While the “Cornetto Trilogy” holds a special place in my heart, Baby Driver may be his most solid and impressive film.
JIM TUDOR: What a cool opportunity to hear Wright’s methods, straight from the source! Guardians Vol. 2 did indeed come to mind, it being the other major action/comedy hinging so well on lovingly chosen needle-drop music. Having been involved in the making of films, I can only imagine the level of exactitude that Wright’s cast and crew had to nail down in order to make this rock n’ roll film feel so effortless, so of it’s moment. As is the case with all of the director’s films, the frames are packed with details, references, minor gags, and asides. For this reason, and so many others, Baby Driver demands multiple viewings.
It might seem incongruous to consider Wright so highly while other similarly frenetic filmmakers, such as Michael Bay and Zack Snyder, routinely get critically trounced. Yes, Wright makes slam-bang whiz-bam movies that appeal more to the younger set. Yet, it’s his precision in the nuts and bolts of his work that cannot be denied. The “cool rush” of it all is the staple of a kind of ongoing meta-commentary on all of pop culture, something that is exclusive to Wright and his sharply tuned British wit. (Note that when frequent collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost broke off for their own cinematic nerd indulgence, Paul, it landed with a dull thud, soon forgotten.)
The “cool rush” of it all is the staple of a kind of ongoing meta-commentary on all of pop culture, something that is exclusive to Wright and his sharply tuned British wit.
Considering the filmmaker’s deeply Eurocentric pedigree, it’s all the more interesting that Baby Driver turns out to be a weird but consistent love letter to Atlanta. In the film, Kevin Spacey’s shrewdly intimidating crime lord commands a revolving door of thieves and criminals, a suspicious and cowardly lot of varying degrees of maladjusted. Coming and going are the afore-mentioned big-name co-stars, Foxx, Hamm, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González, and a few delightful surprise cameos. They tear all over Atlanta, pulling heists and outwitting cops in gonzo style. That is, until blood starts getting spilled, and Baby’s conscious kicks in. Is there a way out for someone so deeply a part of this scene? It’s may not be the film’s smoothest aspect, but Baby Driver makes it’s way to it’s own brand of moral consciousness, as well. This is no mere School of Tarantino cool guys/guns/old songs/violence exercise in stylized violence.
If there’s a weak spot with Baby Driver, it’s Elgort as Baby. He’s a strange, silent brew of pensive and all-knowing. As a relatable character, he’s unfortunately teflon. Fortunately for the film on the whole, it doesn’t at all matter by the end. (And what an end it is!) If this isn’t the movie of the summer, something is wrong. And that ain’t right.
ERIK YATES: While so many big budget films have flopped this year, Baby Driver deserves to be a success. And given just how good it is, it makes me a little curious to see what Edgar Wright’s version of Ant-Man would’ve been like. In the end, I’m glad he ended up walking away from that bigger project. He is a director with his own voice who now has the freedom to tell the kind of stories that he’s passionate about. Stories that are original, and not beholden to a larger studio frame work. Baby Driver is fast, loose, and a lot of fun. I hope they can pull a giant heist on the box office. Get set, grab the soundtrack, and head out to see Baby Driver.