Walter Hill made a film in 1978 called The Driver which stared Ryan O’Neal as an enigmatic, monosyllabic crack getaway driver and Edgar Wright’s superb new feature film reprises the same idea, only now the driver of the title is young and baby-faced and called…Baby.
Baby’s mother (an amateur singer) and his father (of whom nothing is learned other than he used to hit Baby’s mother), were killed in a car accident which left him with tinnitus and the whole film, although on the surface about robbers who employ Baby as their getaway driver, is really about sound and the absence of sound.
Baby now lives with his foster father, a wheel-chair bound, mute and deaf black man; they communicate in sign language. Baby is obsessed with music, owns hundreds of iPods and carries a little portable tape recorder which he uses to record sounds and conversations so that he can put them to music. He makes and has hundreds of cassette tapes (remember them?) each neatly labelled with a name for the music and sounds he has created. His most precious tape is of his mother singing and is labelled simply ‘Mom.’ Baby wears his earphones constantly and listens to an eclectic collection of music. And it is loud music which is the driving force of the film.
Baby works for a Mr Big (Kevin Spacey) who brings together a crew of robbers for each heist. Spacey rather dials in his performance but he’s so good you don’t notice. His is a villain we’ve seen before, most notably Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crowne Affair, Pierce Brosnan in the remake of the same name or Keyser Sose in The Usual Suspects, in which of course Spacey also appeared. The robbers are the usual collection of ethnically diverse tattooed hoodlums, here played by Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Jamie Foxx (scary and excellent), Eiza Gonzalez (as the stereo-typical floozy with a gun) and her boyfriend played by an unshaven, snarly Jon Hamm. Of them all, I never quite believed in Hamm; perhaps I’ve seen too many episodes of Mad Men, or maybe it’s that he just takes too long to get his come-uppance and hogs the screen. (Or maybe it’s because his favourite song is Queen’s Brighton Rock).
Baby is played by Ansel Elgort who is excellent – young, fresh-faced, handsome, charismatic, a brilliant driver and totally believable in the role. He has a touching romance with the beautiful Debora (Lily James) whom he meets in a diner and they fall hopelessly in love. He is tongue-tied and inarticulate but they share a love of music – he has one song called Debora on his iPod. ‘It’s by Trex,’ he says. ‘You mean T Rex,’ she replies. It’s a good line but if he knows that much about music, wouldn’t he know that? (And it’s always nice to see Marc Bolan earn a few extra posthumous dollars).
The film charts Baby’s journey across a series of violent heists. There are echoes of Heat in the gun-shot exchanges with the cops but they’re well-handled by Wright who directs with verve and assurance. We have seen so many car chases in the movies now that it is difficult to make them fresh but Wright manages it – and whoever the stunt drivers are, they deserve top billing.
The film is exciting, sharp, witty (Spacey’s character makes a very funny Monsters Inc reference at the end of the film), well-acted, edge of the seat stuff and if the ending is pretty much what you expect, who cares? The sound-track is to die for – classic rock, Motown, modern stuff, there’s something for every age in the audience; someone has great taste.
I saw it with my son. We both loved it.
‘You remember that Simon and Garfunkel song, Baby Driver?’ I said to my wife when I got home. ‘I hadn’t thought of that when I saw the film’s title. But it plays over the end credits.’
‘Didn’t you?’ she said. ‘It was the first thing I thought of.’
She could always do the pun pics better than me.