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FILM REVIEW: Baby Driver's The Italian Job for the hipster generation

Charlie Masters

Reporter:

Charlie Masters

Baby Driver

Baby Driver (15)
Running time 1hr 52min
Rating *****

BABY Driver is a soundtrack disguised as a movie, director Edgar Wright (him of the legendary Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy) demonstrating a surprising, fantastically ironic ear for tunes and retro ambience. The pitch is, then, a gimmick, overriding any pretensions to a unique or detailed plot; yet, shot with such splendid crispness and boasting multiple prime contenders for the title of Year’s Best Action Sequence, you’ll be the furthest thing from caring.

Just as 2011’s Scott Pilgrim vs the World was a film for videogame nerds, this is one for jukebox nerds, for the awkward kid who hoards rare groove vinyl and wears sunglasses indoors.
Protagonist Baby (Ansel Elgort) is, in fact, one such individual, a sweet young man who mixes recordings of daily life and collects jazz LPs in his spare time. He moonlights as a (reluctant) getaway driver, in the employ of Kevin Spacey’s Atlanta mob boss; his tinnitus requires that he set every job to tracks of his choice, an intriguing hook that permits the unleashing of a succession of
nostalgic toe-tappers (the Damned, Queen, Blur and the Beach Boys all get credits) upon the audience.  The whole thing hinges, therefore, upon an admittedly fragile premise, a ‘one last job’ ordeal with iPods and baseball caps (its setting is something of an anachronism stew) – far from merely exceeding expectations, however, the movie triumphs.

Eschewing F@st N’ Furious 7094-esque scale, this is a street-chase film as giddily old-fashioned as Baby’s music taste. The action remains stubbornly in the driver’s seat (we see next to nothing of the heists themselves, our hero going out of his way to avoid physical violence), and shines for it, the first few minutes, set to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s infectious Bellbottoms, packing in thrills (and real laughs) at a rate most caper pieces can only dream of rivalling over the course of an entire movie. Yet Baby Driver, never content to let our thoughts wander, immediately tops this with a comic scene tracking, of all things, our hero’s morning coffee run. Wright’s craft and meticulousness is a feat in itself; while the songs, sporting such titles as When Something Is Wrong With My Baby and Baby Let Me Take You (in My Arms), are bound up in a very direct way with the drama, they
complement and respect it, never threatening to steal the show (and, in the process, expose the project’s narrative delicacy). The human action, too, is easily as engaging as its vehicular counterpart – Baby’s romance with waitress Debora (Lily James) serves not as a mere interlude, but as an integral part of the overall tapestry.

Yes, technical wizardry aside, this is very much an effort carried by strong performances and by its
sensitive portrayal of the key relationships. Spacey’s quipster is a perverse father figure to the orphaned Baby; Jamie Foxx’s thug is, on the flipside, an incarnation of all that the boy hopes he won’t become, violent, sneering and genuinely menacing. Baby Driver makes a marvellous case not only for the heist movie, a cinema staple said to have run out of ideas in the last century, but for moviemaking in general, with a peppy style that invites endless future possibilities – The Italian Job for the hipster generation.

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