Ansel Elgort, who plays the title character in director Edgar Wright's "Baby Driver," stylishly employs an entrancing balletic flair in his hip, post-millennial interpretation of what his generation's consummate getaway man might be like.
Using flashbacks interspersed throughout the action-packed drama to inform just what goes into the making of this rare bird of the crime world, Wright, who also wrote the script, pens his protagonist's character study in the fashion generally reserved for superheroes. It's all environment, inner genius and je ne sais quoi.
The implied question that serves as subtext of this quick-moving, smart-alecky glimpse into the underworld co-hosted by Kevin Spacey doing a sarcastic take on the traditional mastermind of the operation, is the level of complicity Baby should be charged with, if any. Oh, sure, legally he's as guilty as any of the desperate cadre he's fallen in with ... some of them pretty repulsive in their salivating zeal for murder and mayhem. However, subscribing to the trend in recent years to grade likable perpetrators on a curve, we hope there are loopholes in the offing.
In an early bit of exposition, Baby dances along the sidewalk, oblivious to much around him, twisting around parking meters and other streetscape trappings the way Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly did in countless musicals. The homemade mix pumping into his earphones establishes the cutting-edge choreography. We soon realize that this is hi-test stuff as the outstanding musical score counterbalances the rousing, hellzapoppin bank robbery scene his fantastical driving skills just made possible. He is for now carefree, away clean, almost bucolic in his celebratory prance.
In time, the baggage that has brought Baby, tragically orphaned in early adolescence, to this juncture, will be listed, explained, and explored, but not before he provocatively complicates matters with a bit of love at first sight inspired by Debora, a waitress played by Lily James. Each a drifter of sorts, their meeting recalls the words of my favorite driver, Daniel Goldberger, a
bench-seat raconteur who, from behind the massive wheel of our '51 Buick Roadmaster would say, if spotting an unlikely pair who have found each other, "See, there's someone for everyone."
The catchy tempo is in and of itself refreshing in its divergence from the usual bank heist routine, including a novel cadence in the way Spacey's crime boss, Doc, labels rather than just introduces his underlings to the audience in a round robin of defining insults. It is an abrasively entertaining aspect of his command that suggests that, for all his ingenious plotting, there are greater, perhaps even spiritual forces, fatalistically at work, at once mocking and playing muse to his chosen profession.
Baby has learned early on to be wary and, as politely as he can, tacitly declares as his own the rarefied air high above the sordidness of his gang mates. In his defense, by virtue of Baby's specialty, but also because it's part and parcel of a leadership style we've of late come to know only too well, Doc allows a certain amount of the resultant antipathy among the troops to seethe.
So before long, hidden motivations complicate matters and push comes to shove, further jeopardizing Baby's attempt to separate himself from the indelible reality of his circumstances. From his rogue's gallery of criminality, Wright offers samples of utter venality in lazy-Susan style. And admittedly the shamelessly belligerent soliloquies and one-upmanship in praise of anti-social behavior are a bit wearing on the soul. But that's the message, to mirror in microcosm the raw exhibition of corruption in this second decade of the 21st century, when the real-life effort to subvert truth, decorum and ethics barely attempts to hide its nefarious aims.
Scratch this crime drama just a tad and you recognize the metaphor vital to all those concerned with the assault on all that humankind has striven to accomplish since pulling itself up from the muck. Religious sorts might prefer to blame this spate of evil on Beelzebub himself. Whatever works. Baby, a talented entity with great promise, through poor judgement and a lapse into gullibility has been tossed into the vilest of situations. We root for him to achieve some sort of grace.
In short, with apologies to Aristotle and Plato in stating my analysis, the gist here is not merely good versus evil, but a timely mini treatise on the idea of good itself. However, for those with no patience for movie critics who feature themselves political pundits or, worse yet, philosophers, note that the film's tumultuous derring-do, especially the driving scenes, and a splendid flow of glib dialogue can be enjoyed despite my pontifications. But whether viewed as a parable of our times or exciting shoot-em-up, "Baby Driver" offers a slick getaway from the same ol' same ol'.
"Baby Driver," rated R, is a TriStar Pictures release directed by Edgar Wright and stars Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey and Lily James. Running time: 152 minutes
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