Baby Driver

Film Review |By Christian Tesfaye - Exclusive to Fortune

Movies were born mute. In the early days of cinema, when film equipment was bulky, when 40 frames were made to run in a single second and intertitles were the norm, sound was a nonentity. In theatres of high esteem, a live orchestra may play tunes that synchronise with the images onscreen. Otherwise, it is just shadows and space, which, to be honest, is not such a bad proposition for someone who admires cinematic technical mastery.

Today, the idea of watching a movie without sound is absurd. The only silent movie star contemporary audiences can even identify is Charlie Chaplin. The great ones, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, and even the famous Douglas Fairbanks, have dissipated from public consciousness, unfairly condemned to a state of oblivion, just like the rest of us.

But sound movies have been good to the populace. They are accessible to the mainstream, and to the more sophisticated – they add depth and realism, and when needed, a surreal ambience. A story line could be communicated easily, and just as much in a convoluted manner. Thanks to great movies that used music to build up atmosphere – instead of emotion – music and soundtrack have become an indelible part of cinema. Just imagine Psycho without Bernard Hermann’s epic shower scene motif or The Lion King without the opening song Circle of Life.

Baby Driver is a rare movie that is as interested in what we get to hear just as much as what we get to see. It is visually boisterous but aurally audacious. Sound stands side by side with the actors and the plot in significance, not just helping create an atmosphere but being the atmosphere in itself.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver with a hearing problem. There is a constant buzzing in his ear, so he drowns out the sound by listening to music through an earpiece, even when he is driving to get away from cops. He works for Doc (Kevin Spacey), a dapper crime boss – calculating and ruthless.

Trouble arises when Baby is forced to drive even after settling a score he owes Doc. Matters quickly get out of hand when the crew the crime boss hires (which includes questionable characters played by the likes of Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm) kill undercover cops. Baby and his girlfriend (Lily James) have to make it across an international border as the entire state force descends upon them.

Baby Driver is directed by the gifted British director Edgar Wright. The first of his films I saw was the much acclaimed Shaun of the Dead, the first part of the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy. It is a horror movie, with strong affections for comedy and action. Unlike most comedies of today, it was very much a tasteful film, with an exciting storyline and memorable characters.

The second of the Three Flavours films, Hot Fuzz, was technically not a sequel but followed along the same general mien. A detective is assigned to head the police department of a small town. He quickly grows to notice the eerie nature of the neighbourhood, how bizarrely accidents occur and how nobody ever seems to notice what is just under their noses.

The third film, The World’s End, is the weakest of the trilogy. It follows a group of friends who get together for a reunion in their hometown only to learn that aliens from outer space have replaced everyone.

What all the trilogies have in common is a theme that was perfectly utilised in Don Siegel’s 1956 science fiction movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The villain of all the Three Flavours movies is never just one person, but the whole town itself. Wright obviously has a dislike for a mob of any kind, instead preferring to champion the lone wolf – that romantic nonconformist who stands by his own values for a doomed cause.

Baby Driver is a movie that is similarly averse to compliance, the type of film that is actively advocating rebellion. It argues that authority sucks and that personal redemption could be attained if one is willing to break the rules. Baby is a character lost into his own world; he listens to music not just to drown out the buzzing in his ear, but to free himself from the world outside his own head.

Wright is not as visually inventive in Baby Driver as he is in, say, Hot Fuzz. The camera work is rather laid back, especially in scenes that do not have much action. There is even a long uninterrupted shot around the first act that simply follows Baby as he dances and lip syncs his way through the streets, into a café and out again. The action sequences on the other hand, which mostly comprise car chases, are made with a flurry of cuts. The car chases, which unfold with whatever Baby is listening to at that moment as their soundtrack, are some of the best ever filmed.

But the film is much more than an action movie. It has distinct qualities of a romantic movie (with long dialogues), horror (unkillable villains), and a plot replete with dead ends at every turn. Baby Driver, essentially, is Bullitt meets Before Sunrise meets The Terminator meets Bad Lands.

Published on Jul 29,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 900]



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