It’s a curious trope of the heist and crime caper genre that the getaway driver, amongst the deluge of wrongdoings that go into a robbery, is the role that seems least tarnished by the criminality. An idealistic notion that the driver, as he or she sits in the car waiting for the other criminals to do whatever it is they are doing, is partly victimless. They just drive the car, right?
Baby Driver takes this romantic plausible deniability and runs with it. Baby (Ansel Elgort), an indispensable, victimless-but-not-really getaway driver, distances himself from the uneasiness of his profession. Not only is he in this just to pay back a debt, he literally mutes everything around him with music. Ostensibly, it is to drown out his tinnitus and focus his precocious driving, but his headphones, endless supply of iPods and his eclectic music library acts as a barrier between himself and the horrible reality he exists (and thrives) in. When he’s dancing through streets in time to a song or driving to his carefully selected track of the day, he’s truly at ease. It acts as his protective shield when he must fraternise with psychopaths like Bats (Jamie Foxx).
He has trouble communicating with many of the characters in the film. His only two truly meaningful connections are with his deaf stepfather who he uses sign language to communicate with, and a waitress (Lily James) who happens to be as music obsessed as he is. He furtively records the people who speak at him to remix later in songs where he can deal with these interactions on his own terms. When he is at the wheel he thrives under the speed and second-by-second decisions that come his way, but with people things start to slow down, becoming more difficult.
Predictably, Baby’s debt gets paid but he isn’t out. Or to be more specific: his boss (Kevin Spacey) won’t allow him to be out. And as the film progresses, Baby finds it harder to turn a blind eye to the violence he is a part of as he becomes increasingly more active in the other mechanics that make up a heist.
The inevitability of Baby’s predicament is indicative of the film’s greatest weakness. Its musicality thrillingly sets itself apart from the get-go, but it ultimately succumbs to many genre clichés as it careens towards a slightly messy ending filled with unconvincing character actions. The silent, brooding protagonist who wants out and has one last job before he’s done for good (so he thinks); the love interest with a heart of gold (who just happens to be strangely reminiscent of the hero’s deceased mother); a gang of criminals with the unsettling wild card; a bad guy who refuses to die. Much of it is there and accounted for.
But there’s an unabashed enthusiasm that Wright floods into every crack and pour of Baby Driver. The clichés may be there, but they are mostly batted away with an exuberance and energy that is undeniably infectious. The chase scenes on which these films breath are frenetic and wonderfully silly. Baby dodges and meanders around everything in his path with preposterous assuredness – it’s more Bollywood than Hollywood. It is in these chase sequences that Wright’s signature choppy editing style finds a natural home. (7)