By: Kevin Bailey
What Edgar Wright has done to heist flicks with Baby Driver is similar, in a way, to what Quentin Tarantino did to the genre with Reservoir Dogs, his 1992 directorial debut. Tarantino turned the genre on its head by making a heist movie in which the actual heist is never shown on screen. With Baby Driver, Wright takes a genre that (even in Tarantino’s reimagining) focuses far more on plot than character, and flips that convention on its head.
Baby Driver cares less about the actual heists–which do provide potentially iconic chase scenes–than about the young man at the center of the story. “Baby” is a character about whom we as viewers come to care deeply, which seems to be one of Wright’s primary goals. The film has many of the visual tropes of the heist genre–set to the rhythm of the eclectic music on Baby’s many Ipods–but it is also unique in that it hinges on the personal growth of the protagonist. Baby moves from a happy-go-lucky willing participant in the heists to a reluctant hero, who pushes back against the expectations laid on him by his demanding boss, Doc (Kevin Spacey).
Aside from his age, Baby initially appears similar to the antiheroes of films like The Italian Job and the aforementioned Reservoir Dogs. He seems cool and detached, and lives a life of anonymity, frequenting the diner at which his late mother once worked. It is there that he falls for the beautiful waitress Debora (Lily James), who punctures Baby’s casually callous veneer. She is able to slip past his ever-present earbuds, with which he drowns out both his persistent tinnitus (caused by the wreck which took his mother’s life) and the violence of the world he now inhabits. There is something sweet and light at the heart of Baby Driver that James’s portrayal of Debora exemplifies.
In the end, Baby faces a crucible, after his habit of recording the random conversations that happen every day in his criminal life causes his deadliest colleagues (played by Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm) to question his loyalty. Ultimately, not only his life, but the lives of Debora and his beloved foster father are put in danger. To the end, though, Wright tries to subvert our expectations for how such films must reach their denouement.
Baby Driver has been criticized in some quarters as stylish, but ultimately an empty piece of genre film-making. I think that criticism is unfair, as in my view, Wright’s vision is quite bold. He ultimately succeeded in both paying homage to the traditional heist movies, while also telling the deeper story of Baby’s moral transformation, as the boy becomes a man.