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Edgar Wright doesn't just make great films -- he makes rewarding films. His movies, which have tapped into many different genres and styles since Shaun of the Dead in 2004, are all immensely entertaining in their own right on first viewing, but what makes them brilliant is the excessive attention to detail that adds a new level to the narrative with each new viewing. Baby Driver, a project that Wright has been developing for a solid two decades, is most certainly no exception to this -- and while it will be multiple screenings to fully digest everything it has to offer, it only takes one watch to recognize it as an exceptional piece of art.
In the way that Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World's End are respectively tributes to zombie horror, '80s action, and '50s sci-fi, Baby Driver is Edgar Wright's concoction of heist movie and non-singing & dancing musical, and it clicks on every level. Bleeding a special cinematic language while being brilliantly unique, it's put together unlike anything you've seen before, and while mixing fast chases, smart wit, high-stakes drama, fantastic performances and a genius soundtrack, it's everything you want from a film experience.
Borrowed from a Simon & Garfunkel song, the title also concisely sums up the titular character, Baby (Ansel Elgort), who is perhaps the world's greatest getaway driver. Suffering from a persistent ringing in the ears courtesy of a car crash that killed both of his parents when he was young, he perpetually has headphones piping music to his brain -- and it just so happens that he can find perfect synchronicity with a beat that allows him to execute incredible vehicle maneuvers behind the wheel. Good as he is, however, the crime world is one that he desperately wants to escape, and when he has a love-at-first-sight encounter with a new waitress at his favorite diner (Lily James), he begins to plot his departure, no matter what the cost.
Sporting a 30-song soundtrack that will become a must-buy for anyone who sees the movie, Baby Driver is entirely built around its music -- in the same way that the world is for the protagonist -- and it's nothing short of an astonishing feat. Requiring a stunning degree of specificity and assembled with hyper-elegance by editors Jonathan Amos & Paul Machliss, it's breathtaking to watch everything from a one-shot coffee run choreographed to Bob & Earl's "Harlem Shuffle," to a final showdown set to Queen's "Brighton Rock." The music basically winds up being its own special effect in the film, as what's accomplished will alone have you leaving the theater asking yourself, "How the hell did they do that?"
Baby Driver also has the effect of making the action of Hot Fuzz look like a training wheels exercise for Edgar Wright, as the film's numerous car chases might as well be stress tests for the arm rests of theater seats. Ansel Elgort and the expert stunt team pull off moves with vehicles you would ordinarily think would be impossible -- which is also by itself a credit to the impressive realism generated by dedication to practical on-set work. While your foot is tapping to the beat, your heart is perpetually in your throat as though you've been strapped to the hood of Baby's car, and it demands the big screen.
In line with movies like Walter Hill's The Driver, Michael Mann's Heat and Kathryn Bigelow's Point Break, Baby Driver generates and perpetuates high stakes not only though the danger and daring of the heist, but by making you truly care about the characters. The amazing ace that Edgar Wright keeps up his sleeve, though, is his sense of comedic timing -- which ultimately enhances the entire film with its tricky balancing act. It certainly knows how and when to take itself seriously, but it's also not afraid to make you bend over laughing. There's a demonstrated appreciation for all the tropes that have made the genre great, while there is also fantastic gentle ribbing. (Most reviews will point to a sequence with some sincere confusion about rubber Halloween masks, but also deserving highlight is Kevin Spacey's skills simultaneously lecturing and drawing a detailed chalkboard map.)
That same mix of tones in combination with some wonderfully complex character arcs really creates some tremendous opportunities for the ensemble cast of Baby Driver, anchored by the wonderful chemistry between Ansel Elgort's tight-lipped/smartass Baby and Lily James' Debora, the beautiful southern belle who is completely ready to move her life far, far away from Georgia. Strong as the protagonist game is, however, the real show comes from the balancing act that is the movie's group of intensely shady individuals -- played to perfection by Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez. All of them have a special way of blending sinister and friendly and it perfectly leaves you wondering what to expect from them next.
In comparison to the cult-beloved Cornetto Trilogy and the more niche Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Baby Driver is arguably the most accessible film we've seen from Edgar Wright (at least within the capacity of an R-rating), and it's a pure delight. It's a thrill from end to end; is funnier than any straight studio comedy we've seen this summer; and is a stunning auteur vision that actually reads as a perfect passion project. It's easily one of the best films of the year so far, and will continue to hold that esteem as we roll into December in a few months.