Baby Driver, written and directed by Edgar Wright, is a film that is bustling with an energy, a rhythm and a general sense of fun that most films would beg to have. However all of that energy and fun doesn’t come packaged with a story and characters that ever feel more than just surface level. This put me in an unfortunate place where I would at times be loving the experience and tapping my foot along to the ride that was Baby Driver, and then other times I would struggle to keep my attention on the film and its attempts at plot/character development. But perhaps in Baby Driver those particular elements don’t really matter, or maybe they really do? I’m not sure yet, but let’s hopefully discover the answer through this review. So let’s get to it.
Baby – played by Ansel Elgort – is under the forced employment of, Doc – played by Kevin Spacey – who has Baby be his getaway driver in a set of bank heists (and other types of robberies). And so the deeper Baby gets pulled in, the more danger he gets in and the more dangerous people he meets. All he hopes is that he can escape this failing line of work and protect his stepfather, Joseph – played by CJ Jones – and also focus on his newly starting relationship with Debora – played by Lily James. But of course the people he interacts with and the work he does aren’t really things you can easily walk away from.
Edgar Wright is a director who constructs, shoots and edits his film in a way that means he is probably one of the clearest and most well-defined visual auteurs working in Hollywood right now. The team he must surround himself with to help him build and execute his films must also be praised as well, because this is a film that is produced and delivered in a way that truly shows just how ahead of the game, Wright and his team are at making films with a clear visual and auditory voice.
And with Baby Driver it is all about the music and how the film is built specifically around it. From the movement of the characters, to the actions they perform in a scene and to just the general flow of everything around them – Baby Driver is infectiously fun to watch and move along too. I found it impossible not to tap my fingers/feet or feel the urge to shimmy in my seat. This is a film and an experience that makes you want to move and makes you want to smile at the joyous fun of it all. Edgar Wright is meticulously detailed and almost every scene shows that.
The interesting thing about the more rhythmically driven scenes is how purposeful and necessary it all seems. It never feels like it’s happening for the sake of it; Wright never over does these moments, he never loses the momentum, which is not an easy thing to accomplish.
In fact, that he is able to deliver the action set-pieces that he does and also keep them feeling fresh each time is something that is incredible to see. Most films would put there all into having just one scene similar to what Baby Driver has, whereas this film does it again and again and never falters once at doing it.
But – and I think based upon my intro, you knew that but was coming – Baby Driver does falter in one major way (for me) and that is in its main plot and the characters within that plot. So first off, I’ll say that the actors that are assembled in this film are great, and really do deliver some memorable performances. John Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Eiza González, Kevin Spacey, Lily James; they all absolutely deliver on their performances and offer a wide range of moments – from exhilarating, to tense, to endearing – there are so many moments in which each actor has a chance to shine.
And Ansel Elgort’s leading performance is charming, funny and the performance that above all the others deserves the most amount of praise. He nails the cool factor of the character and there is just something so likeable about him. He was a great choice to lead this film. However, he and pretty much every other character are marred by the fact that all their cool-factor and charm is completely surface level.
I never felt like I had a full understanding of who anyone was. Everyone had particular characteristics but nobody actually felt like a well-rounded character; with depth or layers that built upon one another. I struggled to care about anyone; I struggled to make any real connection with anyone on-screen. They all felt like characters with cool tid-bits, but nothing of any actual substance.
This then plays into the main plot of the film, which I found to be too basic to ever make it feel engaging or interesting. The film seemed to struggle with pacing; going from a high-octane chase scenes, one moment, to a slow, not very interesting expository scene that didn’t add anything to the characters or their background and felt more like filler.
It then also doesn’t help that the sub-plot in the film – Baby’s newly forming relationship with Debora – felt sorely lacking in any meaningful exploration. It all felt under-developed; filled with wonky dialogue. I usually find myself the most engaged by these moments in films, but in Baby Driver, I found them to be a real drag. The fact that both the characters involved were devoid of any nuance meant that investing and caring about a relationship between the two of them was something I just couldn’t find within me to do.
It was because of these two elements – the simplistic characters and the uninteresting, predictable plot – that I found it difficult to stay engaged and attentive to Baby Driver. It was only during the brilliantly executed action set-pieces that I found myself getting excited, as Edgar Wright’s incredible talents as a director were once again on show. In these scenes there were so many things to pick up on and notice – complex camera shots that seemed effortlessly done or particular stunts that not only wow you, but cause you to truly appreciate the time and effort that went into doing them.
So what I’m saying is that I wasn’t as enamoured with Baby Driver as other people seem to have been. It didn’t fully grab my attention and nor did it always hold on to it. But there is also a lot to this film that is incredible to watch and is deserving of a lot of praise. That Edgar Wright put so much time and detail into the car chases and other scenes, and that he went to the effort to have them all done practically and without visual effects, is something I appreciate and love more than words can explain.
Baby Driver wasn’t a home run for me, it didn’t offer everything I was wanting, but boy did it still deliver a lot to enjoy and get giddy about. There are things I can’t wait to go back and watch again and try to figure out how he accomplished them, and I think that says a lot to the experience this film gives.
But I can’t escape the one nagging question that continually bounces around in my head: Is this film all style and no substance. After writing this review and spending time considering all the points, I have to be blunt in saying – because it would be wrong of me to not approach the question in an up-front manner – I do think it is all style and no substance. That is personally what I think and I feel the need to stress that because I don’t want to diminish other people’s love for this film and the experience it offers. I still had fun watching this film and at no point am I annoyed or disappointed at the praise and buzz around Baby Driver (like I have been with some other films this year) because there is still craftsmanship and love for the art-form coursing through this film. I can’t ever say that there isn’t heart and genuineness when talking about an Edgar Wright film, because he is someone who produces memorable, wonderful films that are great to experience, share and enjoy.
I am going to recommend Baby Driver. Despite some of its failings – failings that I think most people won’t notice or be that bothered by, if I’m being honest – this is still one of those films you should go to a cinema and take in on a big screen, while surrounded by other people who are loving the joy-filled experience that it will cause you to have. This is one of those films you won’t regret watching, even if it doesn’t fully give you all that you want.
As you can imagine, I’d love to know your thoughts on the film, especially because of how loved it is. And I’d also love to know what you thought of my review. So please leave any thoughts, opinions or feedback in the comments down below. It would be great if you were to give my blog a follow or my Twitter a follow – @GavinsRamblings – as that way you’ll always know when I post something new. All that’s left to say at this point is thank you for reading my review and I hope to see your return.
One thought on “Review – Baby Driver”
First, I appreciate the thorough review, its obvious you are a pro and do your homework sir. However, I would urge you to watch Baby Driver again in entirety and pay closer attention to the intimate takeaways between the actors. The one on one moments. Great review, but I think you’re missing something when you aren’t seeing the substance. Edgar Wright is genius in telling a story here allowing the characters to develop and have substance while amping us up with the action. I think he gives us enough backstory that tells us the makeup of the characters and how they are built. The Director of Photography Bill Pope provides this incredible window to not only the characters, but carries a sense of the story telling along with the shots. I was fortunate enough to be cast in a small role in Baby Driver, and worked with this cast of talented actors who all carried themselves as completely invested and immersed in the storyline and their roles, and I think that’s where the substance lies. Make no mistake that Edgar Wright’s written words, directing, and coaching are what makes the story work. Lastly, I think its all about story telling, and Baby Driver allows us an opportunity to know these characters beyond dialogue. Regards, Hal.