Oh Edgar Wright, how I have missed you. The director who cultivated his unique style on TV in the form of Spaced and achieved cult auteur status with the likes of the original (and still best) 'romcomzom' Shaun of the Dead, and the always-on-ITV2 Hot Fuzz, charges back into cinemas (after a four-year gap and very nearly directing Ant Man) with the fabulously soundtracked Baby Driver.
Baby Driver is equal parts heist thriller, romantic comedy and ode to the power of music. It tells the story of orphaned Baby who is a getaway driver to pay off a debt. He looks after his adopted dad, visits the same diner each day and listens to a cacophony of great songs. Into his life walks his chance for hope, love and escape in the shape of Debora. It is a simple plot, oft-told, not entirely dissimilar to the equally good Drive. But in this framework Wright can explore the getaway driver subgenre as well as the emotive response music has for us. And what a music the film has: T-Rex, Simon & Garfunkel, Beck, Blur, Barry White and so much more. The use of the music here is skilful too, less concerned in being a playlist of greatest hits and more interested in finding the music to match the rhythm of the film.
This highlights a strength of the movie: that at its core is an understanding that a very good action sequence requires a degree of skill and choreography to match the finest dance numbers. Mercifully free of any (obvious) CGI, it is a film that has a grounded quality missing from modern action movies and harkening back to the likes of Bullitt, The French Connection and The Driver. The film announces itself stylistically in an opening car chase, choreographed to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's 'Bellbottoms', that grabs the audience's attention and pulls them into the world Wright has crafted. It's a pacey, inventive, kinetic scene and might be one of the best car chases this side of Mad Max: Fury Road. On a technical level Baby Driver is far above the more expansive-in-scope blockbusters it shares cinema space with.
The cast does sterling work throughout with Wright surrounding his leads with mighty support. Ansel Elgort makes an effortlessly charming, if somewhat neutral lead, more comfortable in the film's lighter moments than in its darker turns. Lily James is a sweet romantic partner to Elgort, even if her character lacks any inertia of her own. The real strength is in the supporting cast with a trio of crooks standing out: Kevin Spacey is a wonderful mix of sinister and paternal, Jon Hamm gets a rare post-Mad Men great role, and Jamie Foxx is a fun, dangerous addition.
Edgar Wright can add another hit to his CV with Baby Driver. A fast, funny, romantic heist thriller that plays to all of the director's strengths. Yet it is also a film that is as good when it focuses on two young lovers listening to music in a laundrette. Baby Driver is a refreshing sorbet from the blockbuster bloat of the summer, with a truly great soundtrack in tow.