I left the theater speechless. I haven’t done that since I saw Saving Private Ryan.
The week of July 4 is normally reserved for brainless blockbusters, feel-good summer comedies, and kids’ fare. So when Baby Driver hit on June 28, it was sandwiched just days between Transformers: The Last Knight and Despicable Me 3. DM3 crushed all comers with a $72 million opening to Baby Driver’s $20 million. If Transformers wasn’t a bomb, “Baby” might have gotten completely lost in the weeds.
Tellingly, in its second week, “Baby’s” box office didn’t tank, while DM3 and Transformers cratered in the wake of Spider-Man: Homecoming. But enough about business. “Baby Driver” is about art.
And driving. And love. And Atlanta.
If the movie were a song, it would be a country song, sung by Willie Nelson. Something like Blackjack County Chain. Or Gregg Allman’s Midnight Rider.
In fact, “Baby Driver” is a song, or rather a sound track curated to perfection. “Baby” (Ansel Elgort) is a boy becoming a man, a man trapped in a life he didn’t want, a kid learning who he is, a gentle innocent in a criminal world, and a romantic looking for love. He’s the kind of kid who looks at his reflection in store glass but never quite sees himself.
Elgort was, to me, a perfect casting decision. I hadn’t seen anything he’s acted in (“The Fault in Our Stars” isn’t in my preferred genre). But his talents fit the character like an old comfortable dance shoe–“Baby” is very much Elgort, happiest when dancing to a tune in his head.
Set in Atlanta, a city with which I’m fairly familiar, having lived 100 miles south of it for 25 years, Edgar Wright’s pageant captures the essence of the south without becoming caricature. Bill Pope’s (“The Matrix” trilogy and “Spider-Man” trilogy) cinematography was smooth as butter. No camera-shakes or GoPro simulations here. No lens flares, up shots, big pans, split screens or overly dramatized zooms. But every split-second of action seems to have made it onto the screen.
Plot-wise, “Baby” was an anachronism. It had that old-school feel, like the 1960 Rat Pack original “Ocean’s 11.” If Caesar Romero were alive, he might have revived Duke Santos in place of Kevin Spacey’s “Doc.”
One perfect example: I did not notice a single person use a smart phone in the entire movie.
Of course, in 1960, language and violence weren’t what they are today. There’s more than a little helping of “Reservoir Dogs” in “Baby’s” plot. But it doesn’t overwhelm.
“Baby” delivers the speed, the art, and the music from the very first scene. See, I used to own a 2011 Subaru WRX STI. It’s every bit the car as seen in the movie, although I am far, far from the driver “Baby” is. (I did “take air” with mine on some Dooly County dirt roads, and around the country winders in Crawford County, doing somewhere in the vicinity of “boy, you in a heap of trouble” on the speedometer.)
If you see the movie, don’t be late. Missing the first chase scene is, to me, a tragedy that requires nothing less than a refund and a rain check.
Back to Elgort. He’s just a kid (to old me). He reminds me of some kids I know around here. Few words. Distracted, but listening. Elgort is from New York City but manages to do a fair southern accent without drawling himself into ridicule. It’s the kind of accent I’d expect to hear from a kid his age growing up ITP.
We don’t know much about “Baby’s” past–it’s implied, and dropped on you in pieces when you don’t expect it. He’s the product of tragedy. I had to cover my eyes at one point in a flashback because I have a 7-year-old about to be eight. I can’t imagine the horror that poor boy suffered.
What we do know is that “Baby” wants to do right, but can’t manage it. He’s trapped in a debt he can’t pay, and a life he can’t leave without harming those he loves.
Without spoiling the plot, I will tell you that “Baby” got Georgia Department of Corrections right, to a “T”. I’ll also tell you that if you’re a member of the Atlanta PD, you probably won’t be happy.
His decisions are driven by the desire to break free, but like in the real world, crime doesn’t pay. You can run, but you can’t hide, and the sheriff will get you eventually. Yet love always prevails.
“Baby Driver” (“rated R”), 1 hr 52 min.