There are few greater visceral joys in movies than an expertly choreographed car chase, and the film “Baby Driver” is packed with them. Following the insanely fast-paced adventures of an ace driver nicknamed Baby (Ansel Elgort) who is trapped working off a huge debt to a crime boss by serving as the getaway driver for heists, “Driver” combines rapid action, snappy dialogue and an eclectic soundtrack to create a feast for the senses.
However, it also winds up taking some ruthless twists and turns on its race to the finish line that give the film an occasionally nasty, amoral edge as well. Overall, though, it’s a refreshing blast of fresh air in a summer loaded with sequels and reboots.
The movie puts the pedal to the metal from its opening moments, as Baby excitedly sings along to the music playing through his constantly-worn ear buds, while a team of robbers burst into a bank. His ensuing race across Atlanta to outrun dozens of cops winds up with a quick switch to another vehicle and a rendezvous at the headquarters of a crime boss named Doc (Kevin Spacey).
That’s good news to Baby’s elderly, deaf roommate and former foster father Joseph (CJ Jones), who’s concerned that the dangerous lifestyle will catch up with him. He’s a perfect match for Baby, who rarely speaks and constantly listens to music because he contracted tinnitus in a childhood car accident that killed his parents. Baby is also motivated to move on by meeting a pretty and sassy waitress named Debora (Lily James), who shares his love of classic pop tunes and finds him mysterious.
But before Baby can break free, the last gig forces to team up with a vicious thug named Bats (Jamie Foxx), as well as a drugged-out thief named Buddy (Jon Hamm) and his wife Darling (Elza Gonzalez). With the quick-tempered Bats annoyed by Baby’s idiosyncrasies, Baby will have to think faster than he drives to stay alive.
“Driver” was written and directed by British filmmaker Edgar Wright, who has previously brought new life to zombie flicks with “Shaun of the Dead” and buddy-cop films with “Hot Fuzz” by creating a wildly inventive mix of laughs and action. Even when the action and twists risk becoming ridiculous here, he brings just enough serious menace and depth to the proceedings to place viewers on the edge of their seats all the way to the end.
As Baby, Elgort has the interesting task of being the calm center of a storm of eccentric characters, and manages to pull off making an often-silent guy be more compelling than the brash souls around him. Wright gives him plenty to work with by making Baby unexpectedly kind at the most unlikely of moments, until the last half-hour forces him to get tough with those who wish harm to himself and his loved ones.
Aside from its spectacular driving sequences, “Driver” is also notable for the moments of heart that Wright weaves throughout. Baby comes from an extremely troubled background, and his exchanges with Joseph and Debora as his only emotional connections have a quiet beauty that resonates because it is unfortunately rare to see a loud movie also know how to handle thoughtful times.
Yet it’s the soundtrack that makes the film an instant classic, as Wright has woven dozens of songs from across the past five decades and every imaginable genre of pop music to create a tapestry of sound that fits every single second perfectly. From the Beach Boys to Beck, and Sam & Dave to Queen and plenty of other cult favorites, the song selection was perfectly considered by Wright to fit each scene and the attention pays off with pure sonic joy.
“Driver” winds up going off the rails with some nasty yet not-too-graphic violence in its final stretch, toeing the line on how much one can really root for Baby to succeed. There are, of course, countless car crashes along with a few surprising shootouts that wind up with characters lying in pools of blood and the “F” word is used as liberally as one might expect in an R-rated action movie without going nearly as crazy as a Tarantino or Scorsese film. Most adults ought to be able to handle it, but this is not a movie for children.
But as the movie reveals at key moments, Baby’s got a heart underneath that beats with passion, and that is more than enough to make up for the roughest patches and make this a movie well worth seeing for those who wants some summertime fun at the cinema.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.