The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Baby Driver

There are great movies you admire, and then there are great movies you admire that also make you deliriously happy. Baby Driver is the latter. There is no way this doesn't end up being the movie of the summer. It's just that entertaining. June through August used to be a time when Hollywood released its most original works. Think Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, and E.T. These days, it's all sequels and things based on other things. Writer/director Edgar Wright takes a lot of recognizable inspirations, then weaves them into something fresh and new. It's absolutely thrilling.

The opening credit sequence is one long take of a young man walking down a street, listening to music, buying coffee, and returning to a building. He bops to the song “Harlem Shuffle” by Bob & Earl. If you pay attention to the graffiti on the walls and sidewalk as he moves along, you'll see that it consists of words from the song, and that the young man passes them at the precise moment they're sung. How could anyone not love that?

The individual we're talking about is the laconic Baby (Ansel Elgort). He constantly listens to music on an iPod because it drowns out the tinnitus in his ear. He's a beyond-brilliant driver, forced to work for a crime boss named Doc (Kevin Spacey). Baby drives the getaway car while criminals like Bats (Jamie Foxx), Buddy (Jon Hamm), and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) stick up banks and post offices. It's not a way of life he wants to stay in, especially after meeting diner waitress Debora (Lily James). Trying to find a way – or a moment – to escape proves difficult and deadly.

What happens in Baby Driver is important, but the way it happens is equally important. Wright uses filmmaking techniques to put us inside Baby's head. Music plays on the soundtrack in just about every scene, with sound effects used as an additional layer of percussion. Someone slams down a stack of money? It happens on a song's downbeat. Gunshots, screeching tires, and slamming brakes are similarly timed to the music. Heists are carried out in sync with whatever Baby chooses on his iPod, almost as though he's creating a custom soundtrack for each robbery. It wouldn't be a stretch to call this movie a musical, because songs and rhythm are such an integral part of it.

Wright stages the driving scenes with intensity. You can see the influence of director Walter Hill (Streets of Fire, 48 HRS.) throughout, while certain shots or moments are clearly intended as homage to some of the best cinematic car chases. A pre-credits scene, for instance, has a beat clearly reminiscent of the landmark “going the wrong way up the freeway” scene from William Friedkin's To Live and Die in L.A. But while the tributes are there, Wright spins them off into his own unique thing, virtually putting us inside Baby's car with the tunes cranking and the pedal to the floor. You practically hang on to the armrests of your seat as you watch the incredibly staged driving stunts.

Three of Wright's previous films – Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World's End – were genre satires, while Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was a graphic novel come to life. They all had character development to them, but Baby Driver marks the first time he's really delving into deeper emotional territory. The romance between Baby and Debora is touching. Few people understand him. She does. His affection for her inspires him to try getting away from Doc, despite it being potentially dangerous. For all the action and car chases, the relationship between these two people is the soul of the film.

Everyone in the cast is superb. Elgort and James work up a tender chemistry, making the love their characters share feel sincere. Foxx and Hamm provide some ace comic relief. Spacey, meanwhile, delivers one of those knock-it-out-of-the-park supporting performances that make a movie like this kick up another notch.

Baby Driver has it all: action, romance, humor, drama, style, heart, and wit. It's nothing short of phenomenal.

( out of four)

Baby Driver is rated R for violence and language throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 53 minutes.

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