A summer film so cool that air-con is optional.
Sorry for the lack of posts folks…. with a holiday in sunny Portugal, I’ve not been to the pics for weeks!
There’s something inherently appealing about the concept of a getaway driver. A skillful ‘bad-boy’, but not normally bad enough to actually DO the nasty crime stuff…. merely be an active accomplice to it. As a result, it’s a subject that the movies have returned to time after time. I’m old and crusty enough to remember being wowed at seeing Ryan O’Neal in Walter Hill’s “Driver” on the big screen in 1978. And well before that, as a kid, my poor departed mother used to be driven crazy by me begging her to take me to see “The Italian Job” (the original 1969 version) YET again… probably the greatest getaway chase in movie history: I must have seen that film at least 20 times in the cinema. Of course more recently we’ve also had Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan in “Drive” on the same theme. Any I’ve forgotten?
But with Edgar Wright at the helm, a big name cast and an enticing trailer, I had high expectations for “Baby Driver” – and boy was I happy! This is such a seriously cool film on so many levels.
Opening with a bank heist followed by a kick-ass car chase, we follow ‘Baby’ (Ansel Elgort, “Allegiant”, “The Fault in our Stars”) as a tinnitus-suffering, music-infused getaway driver under the thumb of the criminal overlord Doc (Kevin Spacey, in icy Frank Underwood mode). Doc recruits an ever-changing mix-tape of villains for each job, including the psychopathic and appropriately named ‘Bats’ (Jamie Foxx, “Sleepless”), the chillingly dangerous Buddy (Jon Hamm, “Mad Men”, “Keeping Up With The Joneses”) and his “Bonnie-style” wife ‘Darling’ (Eiza González) and the moderately incompetent JD (Lanny Joon) (who changed his neck tattoo of “HATE” to “HAT” since it improved his job prospects… LOL…. “everybody loves a hat”!).
Baby’s life gets more complicated when the hoods become aware of his fledgling relationship with fellow-orphan Debora (Lily James) a waitress in a diner and another lever to keep Baby locked into the job that he is just so, so good at.
On the surface this might be perceived as being just another good excuse for a lot of CGI-driven car stunts in the style of “The Fate of the Furious”. But no. Firstly, as Edgar Wright declared before the special screening I saw, all of the car stunts were actually performed for real on the mean streets of Atlanta (and hats off to the film’s stunt coordinator Robert Nagle and his team for these). And secondly, the car scenes are almost secondary to the fabulous story and character development in the film. The script (also by Edgar Wright) is just brilliant. There are genuinely laugh-out loud moments in the movie, with one of the highlights for me being JD tasked with procuring Michael Myers “Halloween” masks for a heist. If you don’t find this scene hilarious, you are not human – official.
The only misstep for me in the script was an unbelievable event (both in terms of likelihood and – particularly – timing) during a closing car park fight***.
Elgort is really strong in the lead role, and suggested to me that if the role of the young Han Solo in the upcoming Star Wars spin-off hadn’t already gone to Alden Ehrenreich, then here was a very strong contender. All of the supporting roles are strong (as you would expect from such a stellar cast) with Jon Hamm being a standout, appearing truly demonic in the closing scenes. The one role I was less sure about in the film was that of Lily James, whose performance as the ‘sweet as apple pie’ waitress seemed a little too “animated” for the big screen in the early scenes – I remember an acting class by Michael Caine where he advised that given the size of movie screens it’s often the case that “stillness is good”. What works well on the small screen (I am a big fan of her roles in historical TV dramas like “Downton Abbey” and the impeccable “War and Peace”) perhaps sometimes needs modifying for the wide-screen experience. I greatly warmed to her portrayal in the action sequences later on though: she’s a great actress and one that this film can hopefully now propel into the higher echelons in Hollywood.
Another star of the film is the fabulous soundtrack coordinated by Oscar-winner Steven Price (“Gravity“) featuring (amongst many other classics) Queen’s “Brighton Rock”, Golden Earring’s “Radar Love”, the Simon and Garfunkel classic (obviously) and Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle”, all used to brilliant effect. This latter track leads me on to some early Oscar predictions: if this film doesn’t get nominated this year for Oscars for Best Editing (Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss, “Scott Pilgrim vs the World”) and Best Sound Editing (Julian Slater), then there is no God! The “Harlem Shuffle” coffee run sequence is a masterclass in editing and direction. Starting off with what I thought might turn into a tribute to “Saturday Night Fever”, the scene neatly takes on a style all of its own. It’s use of – erm – “subtitles” is just brilliant.
The often subtle, and occasionally not so subtle, edits between scenes are also truly masterful, making this moviegoer laugh-out-loud with delight periodically at the movie-making skill on display.
All of this is orchestrated by Edgar Wright as director who – for me – has been a little inconsistent over the years (loved, loved, loved “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”; “The World’s End” – not so much). Here, he delivers in spades and this film rockets immediately into my Films of the Year list for 2017. Awe inspiring.
Beg, steal, borrow, rob a bank – – do what you have to, but make sure you catch this film on the big screen.
Fad Rating: FFFFF.
*** I take this comment back… having watched the film a second time, there is a subliminal couple of frames (I must have blinked) that explain what happened here.