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Automotive Cinema

I like to wait a few weeks after a movie releases before viewing it, for two reasons. One, I avoid the crowds. Two, I can rant and give spoiler alerts without worrying that I ruined the movie for someone. This won’t be a typical film critic. I should start by saying that I enjoyed Baby Driver. Well written, great soundtrack, and will be a cult classic in later years. This is a car chase review. I watched this film for the same reason most gear-heads did, the cars. Did Baby Driver live up to the hype that we speed, #savethemanuals, junkies wanted to see on the big screen? Will it be added to the list of ionic automotive cinema along side Bullitt, Vanishing Point, or Gone in Sixty Seconds?

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Baby Driver, is a film that has been talked about in media since the start of the summer. Hell, its release date was even moved up from August up to July because we liked the trailer so much. The combination of high paced driving in-sync with music looked promising. A film for people that wanted Fast n Furious action with a story somewhat believable within the realm of reality. Baby Driver delivers just that; high-paced action, witty comedy, and a story that’ll touch the dreamer in all of us.

I’m a Car Chase Nerd

Some people enjoy super heroes, others can quote their favorite gangster movies, but me, I like drivers. Characters in film and television that solve most of their problems behind the wheel. Characters like Frank the Transporter, Elwood Blues, The Bandit, Max Rockatansky (Mad Max), Kowalski, Stuntman Mike, and Dom Toretto (Even though he is the Steven Seagal of Wheelmen).

My obsession with car chase cinema goes beyond the mediocre of Top 10 Lists on the internet that always relist the same scenes without any new information. Over the years I’ve wasted countless hours of company time in YouTube rabbit holes watching car chase scenes. From 70’s B movies to summer block busters, if it has a chase I want to see if they got it right.

Point being, I see car stunts the same way movie critics see a character arch in a Tarintino film. I enjoy seeing the struggle of stunt drivers wrestling with the laws of physics in order to get the perfect shot. Precision within the illusion of chaos for a scene that might be cut from the film entirely. It’s easy for every day, modern, drivers to forget how hard it is to keep 3-tons of steel and glass in control at high speed, and then slide it inches away from a camera crew.

Baby Driver, Great Film that Scratched the Surface

The premise of the film is on Baby, played by Ansel Elgort, a Top Gun wheelman who has tinnitus after a tragic car accident that also left him orphan. Born into a family of musicians, Baby uses music as a way to tune out the ringing in his ears and focus while driving. He lives with an elderly foster parent who is also deaf which means Baby has also learned to read lips. The beauty of the film is how music and sound are in sync. The entire movie plays like a music video. Every action sequence perfectly timed with the beat of the music. An idea director Edgar Wright had circling in his head since 1995 when he heard the song Bell Bottoms by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and started to think of  a car chase. I love that, because I thought I was the only one who imagined car chases set to music.

Anyone who goes about their day pretending the music on their headphones is the soundtrack to their life will relate to Baby Driver.
Baby, is working as a driver for Kevin Spacey’s Doc, the crime mastermind. Doc never uses the same crew twice, yet he always uses Baby as a driver. This is because Baby is actually a car thief who boosted the wrong Mercedes Benz and landed in Doc’s debt. However, no other evidence is given as to how Baby developed his skill as a driver besides a fast-paced monolog by Spacey about Baby eluding police for over 30 minutes on a highway when he was a teenager.

Given that Baby is just a young kid it would have been nice to get a little more background on his driving ability. The film never goes into detail if Baby even likes cars, just music. Lack of character development is one of the few problems with the movie. John Hamm’s, Buddy, is supposedly an ex-wall street guy breaking bad with his younger girlfriend Darling, played by Elza Gonzalez. The Bonnie to his Clyde. Jamie Foxx plays Bats, a sociopath killer. That’s all we really know about these characters. Baby’s love interest is a young waitress named Debora, played by Lily James. The rest of the film plays out like a tragic love story.

Major respect to Edgar Wright for choosing to ditch the green screen and forcing the actors to get in the car during the chase. Wright himself was even strapped to the camera rig so he could direct his actors while sliding around intersections at 50 mph.

H. B. Halicki would be proud.

Wright had his work cut out for him to film a great chase. We had already seen Keanu Reeves piloting a 1969 Mustang in Jon Wick 2. A few years before that we had Tom Cruise power sliding a 1970 Chevelle in Jack Reacher. Both films that used real driving with the stars doing some, if not all, of their own driving. Baby Driver starts off the first 6 minutes of the film with a car chase starring a cherry red Subaru WRX. For all you Subaru bros (male and female) don’t let it go to your head. They used 5 different WRX’s each set up to do different stunts, so please… don’t try this at home.

The Chase Scenes

To me, what makes or breaks a car chase is the use of cockpit and wide shots. All the great chases in film show the driver’s hands and feet working to keep their vehicle on the road. They also use wide panning shots to show the stunt driver earning his/her pay for the day. Seeing the vehicles jump, slide, or crash and then speeding off into the distance. The goal is to make the audience feel the sense of speed and the nervous tension of flirting with disaster.

A good example is Walter Hill’s The Driver (1978), a film that Edgar Wright used for inspiration. Staring Ryan O’Neil as a getaway driver.

Baby Driver does a good job by showing the actor’s bounce around the cars. Because they are actually in the car, not on a studio in front of a green screen. You can see that it’s actually them when the Subaru goes into a turn sideways. I love seeing the Subaru hooning around the city of Atlanta. Remember, the music is in sync with the action so it gives the impression that the car is dancing. Like a vehicular musical. (Don’t worry, Baby Driver is not a musical. It just has great music.)

Only Scratched the Surface

All the great driver characters in film have a similar pattern. Quiet, focused, cool, loner type. Or they are massive show offs. Baby Driver is an unusual character. The movie leads to believe that Baby is Beethoven on Wheels. A driver who can jam out to music while focusing on evading police. I liked this character and wanted to know more. What made him tick. What made him get into driving instead of playing instruments since he is such a fan of music?

The same could be said about all the main characters in the film. What exactly does Doc do for a front if he is not a mafia gangster? Why does he pick a sociopath killer, Bats, for a job? How does a wall street guy turn into a heist man? Why doesn’t Baby driver change his clothes after a job? That’s criminal 101.

Spoiler Alert

The movie ends with Baby Driver getting arrested and being sentenced to serve 25 years in prison with chance for patrol after 5. A death sentence for a young good looking kid. This is only part of the ending so don’t worry I did not ruin the entire film. This ending is just my biggest problem with the film. Why make a film with a puppy-love story and end it with a realistic ending? Felt like being woken up rudely from a great dream. It ends with Baby Driver thinking about the day he gets out of prison and joins Debora for a road trip with the perfect playlist. Its the automotive version to the ending of La La Land. Bittersweet.

Baby Driver Will Be a Future Cult Classic

Edgar Wright’s film career will be immortalized in cult classics. No doubt Baby Driver will be a favorite among both car people and music heads. It’s just too cool. I’ve already read rumors that a sequel isn’t totally out of the question. I hope Edgar Wright plans on creating more car chases in future projects. He’s on the right path.

 

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