Top Fifty Films of the 10s — Number Forty-Eight

50 10s 48

#48 — Baby Driver (Edgar Wright, 2017)

Especially as they scale up, movies are monumentally difficult to make. Relying on a vast team of specialized collaborators practically guarantees that a long process will be beset by unfortunate compromises and the sort of unhappy accidents that can’t be wholly covered up, just briefly elided on the way to the countervailing distraction of a winning moments. All that rutted road makes it all the more special when a film obviously filled to the edges of the frame with complicated moving parts is a grand success, instilling the giddy sensation that just about anything is possible when a camera under the control of someone who very clearly adores the boisterous invention that can be brought to a piece of cinematic entertainment.

Written and directed by Edgar Wright, Baby Driver is, appropriately enough, the movie equivalent of a loaded, tuned-to-perfection sports car with a brick on the gas pedal. Snatching up the shiny particulars of countless previous movies with stylish, smart-mouthed criminals and fine automobiles that can shift to higher gears upwards to infinity, Wright simultaneously snuggles into the comfort of chrome-plated tropes and slyly subverts them. He has some of the same era-specific, B-movie touchstones as Quentin Tarantino, but Wright doesn’t serve up his reimagined leftovers with a side of lurid trash. He wants to unleash the fun within the gun-crack genre material. Plainspoken romance jousts against snarling danger, and the only guaranteed victors are in the audience.

A significant way Wright signals the pleasure he takes in the proceedings is through a headlong employment of inspired technique in service of his zingy vision. Laden with rock and pop music, Baby Driver moves in rhythm with its soundtrack, as if the tracks dialed up on the various devices employed by the young getaway driver nicknamed Baby (Ansel Elgort) are earworms that take up residence in the canals of the narrative. Even a shootout is synched to the thundering rock song that plays against it, the violent gun blasts like concertgoers joyously clapping along to the set closing number that inspires helpless calls for an encore. Baby moves through his confined life alive to beat and melody, and Wright positions the movie as the protagonist’s loving dance partner.

Wright is meticulous in his staging. Cars swerve across asphalt like nimble ballet dancers. If traffic laws are flouted, the ordinances governing physics are followed with strict adherence. The movie magicians perform their tricks with the constant reminder that gravity is always doing its work, too. And the characters can’t simply be interchangeable parts in the film’s engine. There are distinct personalities and discernible — if sometimes notably basic — motivations at play. With admirable assurance, Wright makes sure every bit of his movie contributes to the whole. Baby Driver is the result when a creator cares about their work beyond the spectacle, when the small gestures matter as much as the shattering set pieces. Wright is well aware that the entire machine matters.

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