MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo: Sony Pictures
Directed by Edgar Wright. Starring Ansel Elgort, Lily James
If you love movies that love movies you are probably acquainted with the films of Edgar Wright. He is a creative Brit who has already directed masterful films that blend parody and homage in beautiful and hilarious ways. He’s done a zombie apocalypse/romance (2004’s Shaun of the Dead), a village mystery/Michael Bay blockbuster (2007’s Hot Fuzz), a mid-life crisis/alien invasion mashup (2013’s The World’s End) and a comic book/videogame adventure (2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). Now comes Baby Driver which is a crime caper film that incorporates car chases (using actual cars instead of CGI) and the structure of a movie musical.
The title character (Elgort) is a getaway car driver for various groups of criminals that are recruited and trained by Doc (Kevin Spacey), a mastermind who knows how to orchestrate successful robberies by knowing specific details about each location and never using the same team twice. With the exception of Baby, who is the best getaway driver in the business. To keep things secure, Doc calls the team together using “burner” cellphones that are discarded after each job. Everyone is instructed to use a nickname for added safety, so we are introduced to such characters as Buddy (Jon Hamm), a drug-addled former businessman and his wisecracking girlfriend Darling (Elza González); dependable heavy-hitter Griff (Jon Bernthal); and the menacing and violent Bats (Jamie Foxx).
Baby is doing jobs to pay back a debt that he owes to Doc for a juvenile indiscretion (he stole Doc’s car), but plans to leave the team when his account is paid off (he’s just one job short). Because of a tragic childhood accident, Baby suffers from constant tinnitus and combats the ringing in his ears by listening to music constantly through earbuds and an ever-changing supply of vintage iPods. And that’s the main gimmick of Baby Driver; the whole film is scored, choreographed (by a credited choreographer) and edited to match the beats of the tunes in Baby’s head. Writer-director Wright keeps thing interesting with ever-varying and clever ways to combining sight and sound.
What I appreciated most (and what has been largely ignored by most reviewers) is Baby Driver’s moral arc. Baby is a good person who is trying to convince himself that he is not like his cohorts. As the jobs become increasingly violent and destructive, Baby discovers that his actions will put at risk the persons that he cares the most about, including his waitress/girlfriend Debora (James) and foster father Joseph (CJ Jones). The conclusion of the film challenges the audience to weigh the good and the bad characteristics of a person. Can grace be offered to such as these?
I expect the usual pushback from readers who despise R-rated films, but I want to remind everyone that my pitchfork ratings are designed to keep you away from things that you will find offensive. Your mileage may vary. Baby Driver is one of my favorite films of 2017.
Three halos: A consistently clever and engaging entertainment that honors the genres that it’s referencing with style and wit.
Three pitchforks: For pervasive swearing, violence, robbery, and all of the other things that movie bad guys do.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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