Baby Driver – A High Octane Musical Thriller

9 mins read

Baby Driver arrived in UK cinemas with bang on the 27th June 2017. The films carefully selected musical score humming with the energy of a high-octane engine. While its narrative played with several genres ranging from the action thriller to the heist movie. However, very few people would label Baby Driver as a musical. Possibly due to its testosterone soaked action. But Baby Driver is undoubtedly a hybrid musical in all but name. And while its action pays homage to films like Walter Hills 1978 The Driver. This is a film that redefines and reinvents the musical in a similar vein to that of Saturday Night Fever and The Blues Brothers. Creating a movie that not only buzzes with excitement and energy, but places music front and centre as a driving force in its narrative.

Imagination and Music

Baby Driver sat in the imagination of its British Director for 22 years before making it to the big screen. The films origins rooted in the power of music to spark imagination. The films concept born in the mind of its director Edgar Wright while listening to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion album Orange. His future Hollywood career still a mystery as he battled for small directing jobs aged just 21. However some of the ideas Edgar Wright nurtured can be found in one of his early directorial jobs following the TV series Spaced. Within in a music video for the Mint Royale track Blue Song. Where the enigmatic Noel Fielding lip syncs to a song while waiting in a getaway car. A clear foray into what would become Baby Driver some 15 years later.

22 years ago I was listening to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion album Orange a lot, before I was even really a director. I was like, 21, living in a flat in North London, completely broke. I had made my first no-budget movie [A Fistful of Fingers], but I didn’t know how it was gonna do and I didn’t really know what was next, but I always had a strong reaction to music.”

Christian Long Interviews Edgar Wright – Uproxx June 30th 2017

This creative reaction to the power of music in developing visual ideas is of course nothing new. For instance, Tarantino, Scorsese and Gunn have embedded popular music as a tool for enhancing and cementing their artistic vision. All three incorporating songs of personal meaning into their work. However, Edgar Wright goes one step further with Baby Driver, in creating a film born of the music at its heart.

Dancing Cars

From the opening scenes the role of music as a foundation of the films narritave is clear. The viewer being launched straight into a perfectly choreographed musical heist. The drums, strings and guitars of the track Bellbottoms ringing in our ears. As Ansel Elgort waits in the getaway car, dancing and lip syncing his way through the opening bars of the song. The tempo of the track slowly building as the heist turns into a getaway. With the car now taking control of the musical choreography. The hum of the engine and screech of the brakes syncing with the music as the car dances its way into the opening credits.

With the heist complete, Baby Driver shifts gear to the soul of the Harlem Shuffle. The relief of a successful getaway allowing Baby to relax as he does a coffee run for the team. Dancing his way through the city streets in time to the music, as streets reciprocate by swaying and interacting with the soul of the music around them. An aesthetic reflecting the living streets and sets in both Singing in the Rain and West Side Story.

The role of music continues to impact the action as the film progresses. The cars, characters and romance tied the musical choices that surround them. Each car chase a ballet, each conversation a rhythm. While bullets fly in a warehouse to the to the Latin beat of Tequila.

Baby, ooh baby, I love to call you baby

Music is not only central to the story arc and action of Baby Driver. The music is also central to our main character and his motivations. His past and present represented through songs that enable him to express his emotions and feelings to the outside world. His music a momentary escape door, as he blocks out the world around him with rhythm and beats.

Baby’s risk taking and musical obsessions are not just excuses for choreography. They are instrumental in the trauma that defines his character. The trauma of his mothers death in a car accident very much a part of his present. His cool exterior hiding his tinnitus and fear. While his elderly foster parent Jospeh worries about his future and the risks his driving may bring. Once again music is used as the hook for Baby’s emotional state. With The CommodoresEasy Like Sunday Morning encapsulating his grief, while his driving music echoes his anger and fear.

However, while some music acts as a protective barrier for Baby, his relationship to music changes on meeting Debora. His melancholy lifted as he dances to B-A-B-Y after their first meeting. While later in the launderette Baby uses music as a romantic hook in his developing relationship with Debora. The sharing of earphones and sound finally leading to Baby removing his earphones altogether. In a demonstration of his comfort and security in her presence.

The films music is central to Baby’s emotional connection to the places, events and people that surround him. And while he may never burst into song, his world is built around music. Music that is not only the driving force behind his actions but also his emotional rock. Creating a character that feels as equally at home in the world of musical theatre and film as he does a heist thriller.

Songs over Baby

Containing 30 songs from a range of decades, Baby Driver is as much a love letter to the power of music as it is a masterclass in filmmaking. Its diverse score tied to each scene with precision and care. This is a musical in all but name, its narrative playing out to the peaks and troughs of its soundtrack. In a movie that is part of the music, and not separate to it. From its car chases to romance and drama, the rhythm of its music provides the heartbeat of its action.

Baby Driver (Sony/Tristar Pictures) 2017

Director: Edgar Wright

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, Lily James, Kevin Spacey

Baby Driver is now available to stream and buy now on all major platforms

Ansel Elgort also appears in our review of The Goldfinch

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