Tuesday’s Reviews – Baby Driver (2017)

Ansel Elgort, car chase, Edgar Wright, films, fucking beautiful, great soundtrack, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey, reviews

I’m of an age that means I remember the 2003 music video that paved the way for Edgar Wright’s current hit movie. I’m not bragging: the song is pretty shit and the I can’t imagine that anyone’s missed the band that much. Still, the video is amazing. Not only does is feature The Mighty Boosh (Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt), Nick Frost and Michael Smiley but it’s just great fun. For those of you that haven’t had the pleasure Noel Fielding plays the getaway driver who can only tell the time through track lengths. Whilst waiting for his fellow criminals to rob the bank, he rocks out to the song so he knows when they’ll be done. It’s a great premise that I always felt could have been taken further. Thankfully, so did Edgar Wright and he gave the world Baby Driver. Before we go into the review I want to take a minute to talk about the name. If I hadn’t known this film was connected to Wright then I doubt I’d have seen it. The title gives the impression that it’s going to be nothing more than a sequel to last years’ lousy looking animation Boss Baby and nobody needed that. On the face of it, Baby Driver is a film with a lousy title that stars the kid who died of cancer in The Fault in our Stars. It’s a huge testament to Edgar Wright that it managed to look so fucking cool.

You can tell Baby Driver is going to blow you away from the opening sequence. It is a 6 minute sequence of pure awesome as our mysterious getaway driver rocks out in his car as he waits for his cohorts to rob a bank. Then, in time with the song, the coolest car chase you will have seen for a while kicks in. It’s an exciting sequence that is not only soundtracked by a kickass song but carefully laid on top of it to create something supremely cinematic. All of the tracks in the Baby Driver soundtrack have been carefully chosen so that everything works in harmony to produce something that is more akin to ballet than it is a typical action film. This ain’t no Fast and Furious wannabe. This is nearer to an art form. Yes, that is both a melodramatic and kind of pretentious statement but it is also true, goddammit. Edgar Wright hasn’t made the kind of car chase films that are good because they are so over-the-top and ridiculous. Baby Driver is car chase film that’s good because it’s, you know, good. I defy anyone to watch it and not love it.

Well, except for the title obviously. Something that comes from the getaway driver himself, Baby (Ansel Elgort) and not from any weird connection with Alec Baldwin animated films. Baby is a young man whose poor judgement has lead to him getting caught up in a life of crime. Owing crime boss Duke (Kevin Spacey),  Baby becomes his go-to driver for all of his big scores. He’s something of a lucky charm and, boy, can he drive. He constantly listens to music to drown out the incessant ringing in his ears that he sustained in a childhood accident that killed his mother and father. It soon becomes clear that Baby is not going to be able to leave his life of crime once his debt is repaid, which is unfortunate because he has dreams of driving off into the sunset with the young beautiful waitress he barely knows. Deborah (Lily James) is the light at the end of Baby’s seedy crime tunnel and the start of his road to redemption. If he can just get through one final score.

Which looks tricky thanks to the team he is paired with. The supporting cast that the director has brought together is nothing short of fabulous. Kevin Spacey is the perfect mix of menacing and matey towards Baby and is an imposing figure over the entire narrative. Jamie Foxx is at his most unrestrained as the dangerous and paranoid thief Bats. Finally, the insanely handsome Jon Hamm moves Buddy from loveable rogue to deadly criminal without any difficulty. This is a far cry from Mad Men and it’s bloody great! The only let down is Lily James but that really has little to do with her. The focus here is on Buddy so Deborah never gets the chance to be anything but the perfect girl Baby needs her to be. She has no depth or context. She’s basically a blank slate on which Baby can project his feelings about his past.

If I absolutely had to find a flaw with Baby Driver then I would say it is the narrative. It’s chock-full of every action cliche in the book. From Baby’s tragic backstory to Deborah’s lack of one, it is hardly the most original or exciting plots. There are few moments at the end that seem like weak attempts to tie off loose ends and I could have done without Kevin Spacey’s final act U-turn. But that’s just me forcing myself to be objective. There is nothing about Baby Driver that ruin the over all appeal and excitement. This is a film that isn’t based around a script but around the songs that knit-together to create a brilliant canvas to build on. The film flies when it’s just Baby behind the wheel with music pumping into his ears. Anyone who can not enjoy the moments when gunfire expertly syncs up with drum beats is simply crazy. It is only in the hands of a director like Edgar Wright that a young criminal with hearing problems and mommy issues can work. He makes you care about him and showcases his charms. He makes the business of emotive, high-octane action seem effortless. This is kind of film that countless people will try and copy in years to come but none of them will ever compare to this. I’m going to be so bold and say it’s the film of the year.

TBT – William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996)

anniversary, Baz Luhrmann, great soundtrack, Leonardo DiCaprio, Shakespeare, TBT

There are a couple of reasons why a lot of the girls I know around my age are obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio. Those two reasons are: Titanic and Romeo and Juliet. These films really pushed DiCaprio into spotlight as the romantic hero and the pin-up of the late 90s. We all remember his curtained blonde hair, beautiful blue eyes, and youthful grin from our youth and still sigh at his perfection. Even now, 20 years later, DiCaprio is perfect but, I’m happy to say, his hair has improved somewhat. When I was at university I was part of a group of literature students who fondly remembered Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the tale of two star-crossed lovers as being their first memorable experience with Shakespeare. It took the words of the Bard and made them cool and sexy. And it cemented DiCaprio as our ideal man. Now that I’m a partially matured adult, I find I appreciate about Shakespeare in a more traditional manner but in my younger days the idea of Shakespeare with guns was too good to ignore. Now that the film has celebrated the 20th anniversary of its release, it felt like the perfect time to revisit this classic.

The second that Baz Luhrmann’s big screen adaptation of Romeo and Juliet opens the audience may be confused about what they’re watching. The opening of the film could easily be mistaken for an episode of Cops or something. This isn’t the fair Verona that we’re used to but a Verona Beach deep in the middle of gang warfare. The names of Montague and Capulet adorn the sides of huge buildings that sit side by side and the streets are full of gunfire. Yes, we have no romantic heroes wielding their rapier’s here but driving muscle cars and firing bullets at anyone who looks at them funny. This wasn’t the first time that Shakespeare had been modernised by Hollywood but it was one of the biggest and loudest.

Thanks to the direction of Baz Luhrmann who, as we all know by now, likes to make a fucking huge spectacle. It’s the reason I wasn’t a massive fan of The Great Gatsby but is something that kind of worked for him here. It’s no wonder that Luhrmann would be the one to give this play the Hollywood treatment. I mean he’d be jizzing all over the idea of teenagers dying because their love was so strong. Lurhmann is so annoyingly steadfast in his belief that love is all you need that the film becomes more sincere that I believe it needs to be. But, as we established in Tuesday’s review, I’m massively cynical.

However, I guess in order to make this film popular then you have to push the idea that these two randy teenagers are actually madly and deeply in love. And he manages that. Well he manages that with a huge amount of help from the two lead actors. Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes were both young actors who found their start in television roles. On screen they manage to deliver Shakespeare’s prose with much more understanding and sophistication than the more recent film. The pair have great chemistry and manage to carry the story beautifully.

Although, this play isn’t just about the main characters and the supporting cast all do pretty good work. Although, the pick of the bunch are certainly Harold Perrineau as Mercutio and Pete Postlethwaite as Friar Laurence. These two elevate the film to a higher standard and bring a new dimension to these well-known characters. I have to say that, watching this again as I near 30, I find the film a bit too gimmicky and over-played for my liking. What was refreshing and edgy in the 90s now just feels like too much of a relic. This was Shakespeare for the MTV age but, if I’m being honest, it feels different in the time of social media.

Although, what Luhrmann has managed to do within all of the spectacle and hype is keep the story that is at the heart of this play. The story of Romeo and Juliet will only succeed because of one thing: the two leads. Thankfully, the two talents at the heart of this adaptation are shrewd and talented enough to understand what they’re trying to achieve. Despite all of the distractions and jump cuts, we still focus on the love that is at the heart of the film. Within all of the chaos and the nonsense, we still have the poetry and majesty of Shakespeare’s words. And, frankly, that’s what matters. That’s what makes this film as watchable today as it was 20 years ago.