Baby Driver: the musical that wasn’t

Film

Edgar Wright first came to most people’s attention with his Cornetto trilogy: Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World’s End (2013). In-between, he threw in a career highlight – the utter batshit curveball that was Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010). For lo, it contained a truckload of cool music and a baby-faced lead (Michael Cera), whose character was part of the delightfully named indie band Sex Bob-Omb.

Uber cool, and oh so fun.

He then went off to do Ant-Man and it all went tits up.

But a true measure of a person’s character is how you bounce back and, with Baby Driver, he’s come back blazing – with a crime flick he’s had brewing for quite a few years, and is quite possibly his best work to date.

The movie features a baby-faced getaway driver, Baby (Ansol Elgort), who’s prodigious behind the wheel but wants out of a life of crime. One last job and all that… However, bad boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) has leverage so Baby, for now, must play the game. Not just with Doc, but also his ragtag group of unhinged robbers, in particular Bats (Jamie Foxx) and Buddy (John Hamm) – who both can’t get the measure of Baby and suspect him of not taking this crime stuff seriously.

Hamm and Foxx are blinding casting. They practically steal the film from Elgort. But you’d expect as much. Ansol has to play the straight hero and it’s always the case that the baddest bad guys get to have all the fun.

Bats, like his name, is batty, batshit, a live wire, totally unpredictable and definitely not a team player – which begs the question as to why he’s there. But why not? He’s mad and has skills, which makes robbing banks more fun, no? Buddy, too, starts with the charm (easy for Hamm), doing his Bonnie and Clyde thing with wild wife and partner in crime Darling (Eiza Gonzalez). But he, too, is not a nice guy. Hamm plays him just on the right side of menacing and cartoonish. Close to caricature at times, but events unfold which cause him to turn on Baby in a deliciously evil way – and this arc is some of the best work Hamm’s done in years.

Moreover, inbetween burning rubber for bad guys Baby has another story. Of love, with the impossibly gorgeous Deborah (Lily James), who literally has nothing going on in her life and falls for Baby’s strong and silent shtick straight away (this only happens in the movies).

But first, he’s got bad guy stuff to do before they can run off into the sunset.

Now this may sound like I’m being cynical but I’m just poking fun.

Yeah, Wright steals a lot from loads of movies, but all filmmakers do. As long as you put your own spin on your work it can feel fresh and fun – and this film really does (96% Rotten Tomatoes). It’s also worth saying that not for a long time have I seen a film that weaves music into its fabric quite so effortlessly. It’s balletic at times and almost a musical (although there’s no bursting into song particularly).

Also, with Tarantino off the boil these days (close to retirement?) it’s left to directors like James Gunn and Edgar Wright to fly the flag for music in film in oh so delightful ways. (We can’t have Hans Zimmer do every score now, can we? And Christopher Nolan does seems to monopolise his time anyway.)

But other than music, there’s no real common ground between Guardians of the Galaxy and Baby Driver – except a sense of fun. I mean, the latter probably shares more DNA with Wright’s Scott Pilgrim and plays like the demented lovechild of Heat, The Town, Natural Born Killers and Reservoir Dogs, but hopped up on sugar, coffee and optimism.

Or Drive if it had a sense of humour. Boom.

There’s very little fat either.

Wright wrote the screenplay and it nips along at a decent pace, each character getting their moment. But Wright, smartly, keeps the focus on Baby, who’s in pretty much every scene.

And what casting Elgort is.

At the time of Scott Pilgrim I remember thinking THAT lead came out of leftfield, but turned out to be genius. I mean, who would’ve thought Michael Cera could pull off fight scenes so convincingly? And here, as Baby, Elgort is an inspired choice.

I knew little about him (The Fault in Our Stars fame and was on the shortlist for the young Han Solo movie) before this film, but reading up, he’s as much a musician as an actor. Even took ballet lessons as a kid, which makes sense, given some of the scenes in Baby Driver required, athleticism, shall we say? (And I don’t mean sex, if that’s what you’re thinking.)

His journey is interesting too. A strong and silent getaway driver (Ryan Gosling in Drive?) who connects to his past by listening to old cassette tapes (Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy?) means he’s following in the footsteps of some big actors. But he owns the role. Particularly when he could have been all but swallowed up by the bigger actors like Spacey, Foxx and Hamm swanning about the place.

Wright has talked about a sequel – which would be the first time he’s done that in his career. To me, this film feels fairly complete as a story, but I’d be open to the idea if it was a REALLY good story. The studio is keen, so we’ll see.

But if you were on the fence, go see this film. It’s so much fun. And if you were expecting a Hott Fuzz type affair, this ain’t it. Wright evolves with each film so you can’t really pigeonhole him. I’m excited to see what he does next.

Django, Tarantino, Waltz and fantastic Foxx

Film

From a failed heist gangster movie and female assassin revenge tale, through to an alternative take on the death of Hitler and Spaghetti Western tackling racism in the deep south – Quentin Tarantino has never failed to defy expectation.

Indeed, he’s spoken in the past about how he wants to maintain a consistently high standard for his directorial filmography: Something largely achieved thus far, perhaps excluding Death Proof,  which whilst not that bad, clearly wasn’t vintage Tarantino. django foxx waltz wantedThat said, from Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds through to this latest offering, you can see progression in his work; particularly his love of Spaghetti Western and its cinematic heroes and villains.

There’s plenty of scenes in Django Unchained that put me in mind of both Basterds and Kill Bill. The sort of tense, dialogue-heavy exchange between two characters that builds and builds to an epic – often explosive – climax. You see this in Django on more than one occasion; like a Writer-Director who’s flexing his muscles and grandstanding, but pulling it off with flair and panache.

Say what you like about Tarantino, but there’s hardly any Directors working today that’d go anywhere near this sort of material. That’s not to say much of it is historically that accurate, but with his trademark lashings of ultra-violence and wonderfully realised characters, it does make darn good cinema; putting it worlds away from bland Hollywood rehashes and remakes.

django shadesDjango. The d is silent

In terms of plot, Django kicks off with Christopher Waltz’s bounty hunter, Dr King Schultz, seeking out a slave called Django (Jamie Foxx) to help identify his next set of targets, the Brittle brothers.

Schultz abhors slavery and agrees to set him free once he helps complete the job. Turns out, Django is a natural at bounty hunting and Schultz urges him to partner up over the winter, to which he agrees.

During this time Schultz learns Django has a wife called Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), whom he plans to find and free once winter is over. Once Schultz hears this tale he agrees to help free Broomhilda from sadistic plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). As you’d expect, their plan doesn’t go as hoped and culminates in typical Tarantino fashion.

I like the way you die, boy

Originally there were a few actors rumoured for the part of Django, but I’m glad it went to Foxx. He really stole the show, bringing an effortless cool swagger and ruthlessness to the character. His tough, uncompromisingdjango and candie demeanour put me in mind of his performance in Collateral, particularly the scenes where he had to impersonate Tom Cruise’s hitman, which he did with great skill and poise.

Waltz, as the eloquent, unfailingly-polite bounty hunter, was on top form. Playing almost a continuation of his character from Basterds – but with more of a moral compass, even for a bounty hunter – he lit up the screen, every scene laying the groundwork for his encounter with DiCaprio’s violently sadistic Calvin Candie.

Which brings us to DiCaprio. Whilst aspects of characters he’s played in the past have been morally questionable, this is his first out-and-out pure bad guy. A Tarantino-scripted bad guy no less, which clearly gave him something to sink his teeth into, which he did with malevolent glee and aplomb: Revelling in scenes where he bounces off Waltz’s more moral Schultz.

django stephen samuel l jacksonFinally, honourable mention should go to the most dishonourable and despicable character, Samuel L Jackson’s ‘house n*gger’ Stephen. A black man who despises blacks more than most whites in the film do – viciously clinging to his position of power and authority in the Candie household.

Stephen is easily the most contemptible character Jackson has played in his career, something he does with astonishing conviction – subverting his natural charisma to make Stephen quite unpalatable to watch, but captivating nonetheless.

Hey, little troublemaker

It’s no big revelation that a Tarantino Western has been coming for a while. He’s peppered all his films with key scenes that nod to the genre: From the mexican stand-off in Reservoir Dogs and most of Kill Bill Vol 2, through to the powerful opening scene in Inglourious Basterds.

In terms of where this sits in his filmography, I’d say it’s on par with Kill Bill (I and II combined) but just edges Basterds – so one of his best, albeit suffering from a slightly long running time. If you’re even a passing fan of Westerns or Tarantino films, you won’t want to miss it.

[Interesting links]
Tarantino’s Top 20 Spaghetti Westerns
The Quentin Tarantino archives
Faster, Quentin! Thrill! Thrill! – Roger Ebert’s journal

kill bill 2 carradine thurman