Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Edgar Wright's BABY DRIVER


.... Damn.  Now *that* is a motherfucking EXHILARATING movie experience. 

I should mention two things up front: 1) I came in hoping to like this as I have enjoyed or loved Wright's previous work (whether it's Spaced or the movies), and 2) I'm a... sucker isn't the right word, I've got a soft spot for a damn-good heist movie (i.e. you plant me in front of something whether it's from the French like Rififi or Melville, or something... else from the past thirty years, I'm sure I'll have liked it at least if not loved it), since I like a good hard-boiled crime story and a heist is something that involves so many moving parts in the plot, yet it all comes down to character.

We all know the shoe will drop when seeing The Killing, it can't all go so right even when the characters have their s*** together.  Wright knows this, but he's not out to only make a heist movie, dear God he wouldn't do something as pedestrian as a conventional genre movie.  No, what he does is give his genre the full SOUND - in this case more literally than figurative - as a man who loves cinema.

This is the kind of exhilaration that I felt seeing, as an example not quite like this but in the same 'OMG' ballpark, as Tarantino with Kill Bill Vol. 1; you can feel the filmmaker brimming with excitement as being able to give the audience something that they can see so clearly in their heads (or have for years, as I believe both filmmakers had such a passion for their projects), but it's also not something that's obtuse or so wrapped up in something that we can't get. Baby Driver works for your regular (i.e. not-super-usual-movie-goer) couple for a date night as well as your group of guys sick and tired of Transformers garbage or other blockbusters, or, of course, those movie freaks who haven't seen something getting well over two thousand (or three?) screens in multiplexes that has a vision.  Baby Driver is a pulse-pounding thriller, a film-noir, a heist movie, and also, of course, a musical, a love story, and a tale of tragedy buried underneath.

If you've seen Scott Pilgrim or World's End, you'll get what I mean by this; what I love so much about Wright, and not to mention the cast assembled that gets to have the TIME OF THEIR LIVES in these parts - Hamm and Foxx especially - is that he has kind of a light touch to things on one hand, or at least a sense of play.  Notice the opening scene where Baby (Elgort) is in the car while the crew is robbing the bank; he's got his song on and he's doing a little dance for himself in the car.  Does one think this would be realistic?  I don't know, I've never been part of a bank robbery, who cares?  It tells us right away the sensibility of the character, but also what this movie will be: a character who lets himself, or tries to, have those moments of levity wedged between those times when things have to get hardcore, pedal goes metal, and we get the high-octane action cinematography and editing of a Hollywood movie (though here with the plus of Bill Pope once again as cinematographer). 

Did I mention this is a musical too?  Yes it is and no it isn't; the same was with Scott Pilgrim, where the fights were staged and choreographed as if they were musical numbers.  It can't be helped here with the soundtrack Baby provides himself - there is a story reason for it too, as he was in a car crash as a kid, killing his parents, and he has tinitus, drowns out the buzz - but Wright makes sure everything is fully percussive, even down to when Kevin Spacey counts his stacks of money.

It's all there in the script, but there's not a moment where you don't feel Wright in control of how the marriage of music has to go with the movement of the film, AND the emotional components.  Sure, sometimes you'll notice a song matches up neatly with the song - when there's a tense scene with Baby being forced basically to be in the diner where his girlfriend Debora works by co-horts Foxx and Hamm (mostly Foxx), a song about 'Baby' being in trouble plays, and it fits without a hitch - but that's part of the point, isn't it?  Like Scorsese, or even to a degree Tarantino, Wright's soundtrack IS Baby's soundtrack, and it makes psychological sense as much as tonal, and it's not a put-on or something that calls attention to itself in a poor way.

And as a film-noir, you can take it seriously.  Wright's background with Simon Pegg and others has been in comedy, and there's laughs to be had through much of Baby Driver, but it's kind of the opposite of Tarantino in that regard: where one might be tempted to put Reservoir Dogs on the comedy shelf of the video store, this does belong on the thriller/action shelf.  But at the same time another movie I couldn't help but think of, Drive, or even Michael Mann stuff, takes itself more seriously than this - it's a very fine line that the filmmaker is walking, and the cast too, which is a distinction to make - and in a way makes me question what I even saw in something like Drive, another story about a guy who works with criminals but is a perpetual outsider, and we connect with him.  That felt colder than this; while Elgort is detached at points, he's not when it matters, when he connects with Debora, and that doesn't feel false at all.  Among the other traits that one might take for granted, the dialog here is sharp as a tack, and it goes well with how the images evoke neo-noir - it IS existential to the degree the best of them are, it's all about the personal responsibility of our hero... and, again to a degree, musicals.  

That ain't no 9mm automatic, Austin!

There's a video on youtube I love by a critic, Tony Zhou, where he examines Wright's sense of visual comedy, how he's able to use many tricks that help to tell the story visually, but also to find ways to tell jokes.  What's doubly impressive about Baby Driver is that Wright decides to deny himself some of those tricks this time, or at least that I could spot on a first viewing (so so SO much to process so soon after) for purely comedic effect - if the tricks are there, it's done for both comedy AND the psychology of the character and the world he inhabits.  Yet he still pulls out on top in making a film that has true visual panache, nothing that is trying too hard (take a good look, Guy Ritchie, just LOOK man) except that it is part of the DNA of what the film *is*, if that makes sense.  Wright as well as the actors have their influences, whether it's in the attitude or the wardrobe or just the setting of this city, but it all feels original somehow, something that feels true to itself. 

This is violent, fun, whimsical, daring, bloody, funny, and a piece of pure ROCK AND ROLL.  Go see it, damn you!

PS: Did the actress who played Debora... was she cast or was she made up to look like Shelly Johnson from (original) Twin Peaks or am I just Twin Peaks crazy right now?

PPS: That *is* Bud Cort Paul Williams in that scene at the warehouse with the guns, right?  Fuck yeah, Phantom of the Paradise!

PPPS: One tiny flaw for me, sort of a spoiler.

His name really had to be *Miles*?

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