Baby Driver (Edgar Wright, 2017)*
If only the entire movie were as good as its first act, Baby Driver would be a near-masterpiece of dazzling mise-en-scène and editing. Snappy, brisk and wildly inventive in its opening third, the film, from British director Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz), follows “Baby” (Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars), a getaway driver for a bank-robbing team headed by the shadowy Doc (Kevin Spacey, Elvis & Nixon). As two men and one woman make their way inside the target, Baby sits in the front seat, jamming to the tunes on his iPod. Wright cuts each shot to the sharp beats, shifting angles and frame sizes in a dizzying display of filmmaking bravura, subsequently upping the ante even more when the gangsters jump back into the vehicle, prompting one of the best car chases to make it to the screen in years (with more to come). Get ready for a wild ride, the director proclaims in bright, bold letters, and then more than delivers the goods. Later, Wright shows he can handle staging and blocking, as well as editing, when his camera pursues Baby on a single-shot pedestrian coffee run. Is it too much style, in danger of overwhelming the substance? You bet! Is it terrific fun, so you almost don’t care? I’ll see you and raise you another.
Unfortunately, this virtuosity falters midway through, when the script turns maudlin, and for a while we fear that Wright has lost his way. Fortunately, the ending sees him return to form, though the final scenes are still a bit soggy. Joining Elgort and Spacey – both excellent – in the madcap mayhem are Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained), Eiza González (El Rey Network’s From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series), Jon Hamm (AMC’s Mad Men), and Lily James (Cinderella), among others in a great supporting cast. If you like your adrenaline rush set to a catchy soundtrack (in many ways, the film feels inspired by Wright’s favorite playlist), and don’t mind the messy middle section, then this could be the film for you. Be forewarned, however, that like so many action-oriented films of today (and yesterday, to be fair), the gun violence is extreme, if cartoonish. Only you can be the judge of whether cinematic entertainment justifies the collateral damage … or not. I can guarantee that you won’t need caffeine when you leave the theater, however.
*Adapted from a capsule review I wrote for my post-SXSW coverage at Film Festival Today.