Feat. The Music of Danger Mouse ft. Run The Jewels & Big Boi
“You don’t belong in this world.”
A movie choreographed to the beat of its own soundtrack? Such an ambition resonates with EFC’s heart.
At 10:19pm I made my getaway from Cincinnati’s Deerfield TownCenter Theater, the latest theater on my hit list. I had just finished watching Edgar Wright’s new heist movie, Baby Driver, on the night of its premier.
I fled the parking lot like a bat out of hell, apparently having developed acute lead-foot from my experience. I nearly side-swiped another vehicle before screeching to a halt in front of a red octagonal roadside that said “STOP.” Man, I wish I could drive like Baby.
You might call me a baby for my critique of this film, which I’ll arrive at momentarily. Let me first tell you I’m a 2nd tier fan of director, Edgar Wright. I’ve watched and enjoyed his other films, Shaun of The Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010). But I wouldn’t call him one of my favorite filmmakers. I’ve always watched his films from a safe distance.
Overall I greatly enjoyed Baby Driver. It has style, smarts and swagger. It is a refreshingly original summer action movie, distinct from the multitude of studio franchise sequels and reboots we’ve been inundated with in recent years – Cars 3! Fast 5! Pirates of The Caribbean… In Space! Might as well be the next one. And the list goes on as you well know. I praise Baby’s team for daring, and largely succeeding, to deliver fresh summer entertainment.
Baby, the character, (Ansel Elgort) is one of the most unique movie protagonists I’ve seen. Possibly too unique to be believable. Then again, maybe he doesn’t have to be. Quiet, confident, and good-natured, with a humble charm that steals the heart of his love interest, Debora (Lily James), the waitress at his favorite diner.
Baby is also an orphan and a genius. His mind seems equally well suited to following a plan, and improvising when the plan goes astray. This latter ability translates to some of the most thrilling car chases and getaways I’ve ever seen on screen. Steve McQueen would be proud.
Baby quite literally marches to the beat of his own drum via his arsenal of i-pods, each with its own decor and catalogue of music. He’s got the old school swag sounds of James Brown and Barry White, the hip new sounds of Danger Mouse and Run The Jewels, and everything else in between. There are upwards of 70 tracks in this movie! As each song plays, the on-screen action falls into sync with the beat. It’s really quite impressive to watch.
While the film is highly entertaining and original, I do have my reservations, which stem primarily from my uncertainty as to its realness, which I’ll do my best to explain. That, combined with the film’s steep level of violence and gore that is at times skull-crushing.
Is this movie real or is it fantasy? Of all of Wright’s films I’ve seen, this one is the hardest to tell. And I feel this is important to know, given the film’s morally charged subject: the world of organized crime, its participants, and its victims.
The video game series, Grand Theft Auto was an obvious inspiration with its follow the crime boss to riches storyline.
But at least with GTA I know I’m playing a game. I can’t say the same about Baby for some reason. Maybe it’s because I’m not sure if the car stunts are physically possible, or if there are characters in the real world as vengeful as Buddy (Jon Hamm). At any rate, I feel a stronger inclination to condemn the film’s violence.
The Police were slighted in this film. They are portrayed as mere obstacles for our “hero” to overcome, and as expendable as henchmen in a bond film, or gumbas in Super Mario World. There is no Bowser equalizer here. No Al Pacino to your Robert De Niro (Heat). No Bruce Willis to your Alan Rickman. No Tommy Lee Jones to your Harrison Ford.
Furthermore, where The latter character, Dr. Richard Kimbell, is truly innocent, Baby is not, even though he seems to possess a heart of gold. He takes care of his deaf roommate, and does everything in his power to protect innocent people from dying, even if that means jeopardizing the mission, and his own safety.
He is in many ways a victim of circumstance. His crime boss, Doc (Kevin Spacey) strong-arms him into participating in his crimes.
However, let’s not forget how Baby got into this racket in the first place, by trying to rob Doc. He also becomes a killer over the course of the film. Now, admittedly this one’s a “tough error” as they say in baseball. But an error nonetheless. How much slack should we give our hero before ceasing to root for him? Director, Wright’s answer seems to be, all of it. And indeed I find myself rooting for this conundrum of a character, all the way in fact. Yet in some distant quadrant of my mind I feel I shouldn’t.
Many critics have lauded Baby as a unique genre-blending action movie. To that compliment I would agree. However, I believe this same strength is also its greatest weakness. While the film blends genres, including comedy, action, crime, drama, and romance, it fails to maintain control over the styled product and, therefore, fails to direct our thoughts and feelings toward any meaningful destination.
This is particularly problematic because the movie is so violent. Since the genre is unclear, my feelings toward the violence are as well. And you can’t leave feelings to chance when you portray the worst aspects of our humanity. I can tolerate violence and gore so long as it occurs under the Director’s safe supervision. I’m not convinced Wright maintains control in this regard.
Baby Driver is an entertaining, yet morally debasing concoction of violence, romance and gore, driven by an eclectic soundtrack for the ages. If you don’t know whether to see it, I’d recommend you heed the sentiment Baby offers his would-be partner in crime, “You don’t belong in this world.”
EFC 2.03 Soundtrack: “Chase Me” by Danger Mouse ft. Run The Jewels & Big Boi
Release Date: June 28, 2017
Director: Edgar Wright (Shaun of The Dead, Hot Fuzz)
Writer: Edgar Wright (Shaun of The Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World)
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, Jon Bernthal, and Kevin Spacey
The Inside Out: Anger (30), Disgust (17), Joy (13), Fear (6), Sadness (4)