BY ROGER THOMAS
I had seen the trailer for “Baby Driver” many times but I never realized the plot was taking place on the streets of my former residence: Atlanta, Georgia. I saw several things that looked familiar and there was also some dialogue that discussed sights and roads I used to drive on. The references to that city are just one of the many elements that made “Baby Driver” a exceptional experience for me.
The film boasts a strong cast. Ansel Elgort plays the title character “Baby.” He was previously seen on the “Divergent” series of films of which I was not a fan. He also did “The Fault in Our Stars” which I liked more than the “Divergent” films. None of his previous work, however, comes close to his work in this film. He is the greatest strength of the film and I am looking forward to seeing what he will do next..
Elgort is surrounded with talent including three villains played by Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey, and Jamie Foxx. Lily James plays Baby’s love interest, Debora, and she does good work as a waitress who happens to meet Baby one day at the diner where she works. It is a superb cast all the way around.
Beyond the setting and cast, the film is choreographed with so many high speed chases that I could hardly keep up with all of them. This film reminded me of the films I saw as a child and a young teenager. My brother and I were always excited when a another film about people in cars chasing one another came to our local theatre. The only title I remember was “Vanishing Point” but back then it seemed like a car chase movie came out every other week. In the 70’s I believed in all that stunt driving; now I know that most of the car chases on screen would never actually happen in a metropolitan city. The chases in “Baby Driver” are slick and cool scenes. Plus they are incredibly fun even if they are not realistic.
So the film has a great setting, Atlanta, a fine cast pushing a strong story, and great action sequences. All that would add up to a fairly good film. But there is so much more. Edgar Wright is not a household name in the United States. When the credits were rolling on the screen, I did not recognize his name. Wright is a British filmmaker who has given the world such films as “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz” and “The World’s End.” Thanks to a friend who pointed this out to me.
Wright has done great work for years. “Shaun” came out in 2004, so it has been more than a decade that Wright has been making entertaining and fun films that are also smart. “Baby Driver” follows right along with that tradition. First and foremost, this is a action film. It is a thriller. But it is also a story of a good person trapped in a bad world. Baby wants to escape from the darkness where he dwells, but his situation denies him that freedom.
Then there is Debora, Baby’s first love and Joseph, Baby’s foster father. These two influences challenge Baby to escape and become something new. Their presence in the story offers redemption. Whether it is within Baby’s grasp is the question between all the car chases and crimes being committed.
I will not reveal how all this plays out, but there is a coda that I, for one, appreciated. Sometimes films end and we have questions. Sometimes actions set up a potential secret for a sequel. Sometimes when we see a film, we get the feeling that the film truly concludes; whether the story ends happy or sad, it ends right.
“Baby Driver” has one of those endings. It concludes just right.
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.