It would be difficult for anyone with a love for both film and music to dismiss a film like Baby Driver. At a glance, the film seems fairly routine; ‘a young outcast pays off his debts to a crime boss by taking part in his bank heists as a getaway driver’. If you said this to anyone, they would surely form a rough idea of what the film was, how it was structured, and broadly what they might get. Suddenly, you introduce Edger Wright, and things just became a whole lot more interesting.
I personally don’t have a huge history of re-watching the films of Wright, but it’s impossible to say his films are never engaging. He’s truly a modern-day auteur, an auteur in the same way that Tarantino and Wes Anderson are and have been for many years. Baby Driver not only stands out in his somewhat impressive filmography, but is also, I would say, the most Edger Wright film to date.
In many ways, Baby Driver is a cartoon; it’s not a film to emotionally invest in, yet neither is it a film with particularly detailed characters – they each are, including ‘Baby’ himself, light archetypal sketches that exist mainly to service the fluidity of the fast-paced narrative and sprawling visuals. ‘Baby’, who suffers from tinnitus, spends most of the film listening to music in order to drown out the ringing sounds that impair him, but even this is treated as a gimmick, a plot device that gives the film’s musical structure a reason to exist in the first place.
And so, why did I enjoy the film? The broad answer is, ‘filmmaking’… but a more specific one would be, ‘editing’. The idea for Baby Driver seems to have been playing on Wright’s mind for quite some time. Back in 2011, Edger Wright directed a music video for the band ‘Mint Royale’ that featured the central premise of a getaway driver listening to music during the operation of a bank heist. With Baby Driver, this idea was deployed yet again, only this time, turned up to eleven. The film features an extremely fluid and tightly designed opening scene that illustrates well what is to come. A high-speed getaway chase through the streets of Atlanta, Georgia is pivoted on the kinetic motions of the music playing in Baby’s headphones. This strips the scene of the usual action movie tropes, and instead uses the music to implement an entirely bespoke editing pattern. Such editing to music is in no way new, but the film extends the technique by situating that music within the world of the film itself (via Baby’s headphones), thereby giving the film’s visual authority over to the sound and rhythm of Baby’s music … the music leads, and the movement of the film seems to follow.
Because of this premise, Wright also gives us the enjoyment of an almost non-stop soundtrack featuring everything from classic rock, to experimental jazz, to 60s pop. The film may not be a tug at the heartstrings, but it’s clearly been put together by someone with a deep love and understanding for filmmaking and art, playing and experimenting with the boundaries of mainstream cinema, and broadening our understanding of what an ‘action film’ can be.