This British-American action comedy film tells the story of a young getaway driver, working for a dictatorial crime boss, who asks him to take part in robberies. The title of the film draws its relevance from the song of the same name by Simon and Garfunkel.
Ansel Elgort is a young man haunted by his childhood past, called Baby. He has a passionate love of music, and works as the getaway driver for a group of Atlanta bank robbers led by Doc (Kevin Spacey). Doc is the manipulative mastermind behind the group and sternly plans its various heists. Baby has to drive with music. He is respected by his group for his skill, and works to pay off a debt he owes for stealing one of Doc’s cars in the past, and he typically chooses a song to fit the caper.
Baby is told that his debt will be paid off after one more job, but Doc keeps on telling him he is needed once more. Between heists he falls in love with Deborah (Lily James), a young waitress who works in his favourite diner, and who loves music almost as much as he does. With heists going wrong, and with a touch of “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967), Deborah becomes inevitably involved in the group’s criminal escapades, and during the action, people are killed. Baby does what he can to protect Deborah, but eventually gets caught, and Deborah promises to wait for him until he gets out of prison, which he does in a fantasy sequence that concludes the film.
The best way of describing this film is that it is a romantic musical welded into a series of action-packed scenarios. Baby, for instance, waits in his getaway car, living, loving and breathing his beloved music, while outside the car, his colleagues rob banks while police and criminals get shot.
The film has an astounding musical soundtrack which includes songs and music that span decades of time. It includes hits such as as “Harlem Shuffle” with Bob & Earl, “Let’s Go Away for Awhile” with “The Beach Boys”, “Unsquare Dance” with Dave Brubeck, and “Baby Driver” with Simon & Garfunkel. Scenes are grossly violent and bloody as heists go wrong. The violence is constant, and glamorised as a solution to everyone’s problems, but the music is integrated with the action superbly. The violence is choreographed, and music surrounds it.
The film’s editing is exceptionally tight. The film is well acted (with an especially compelling performance by Ansel Elgort) and the photography is suitably atmospheric. Music, editing, direction and cinematography all combine to create a film that is entertaining, and few movies can match the speed and urgency of its stunt work. Particularly impressive in this regard, is the movie’s opening sequence in which “Bellbottoms” rings out as a musical accompaniment to a choreographed car chase in which police and criminal cars chase each other full throttle.
The film has no hesitation about stereotyping; it is hardly a movie for discouraging dangerous driving; it uses brutal violence to glorify its themes; but it shows special energy in the way it combines action and music – suddenly lyrics appear on walls, and the nature of a song provides unexpected commentary on what is happening on and off the screen.
This is a highly original movie that dazzlingly integrates its visuals with music. Unfortunately, it relies on strong violence to demonstrate its creativity, but putting the violence to one side (which is hard to do) the film achieves an extraordinary synergy of movement and sound. It is risky to treat almost every action scene as a musical number, but in this film that risk pays off. Edgar Wright, the film’s director, has given us a piece of cinema that stylishly engages with viewers in a most distinctive way.
Peter W. Sheehan is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for film and Broadcasting
Review by the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting