The essence of a movie or TV show can usually be distilled into a scene which helps us figure out what makes it stand out. In my opinion, the scene that captures this for Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is about an hour into the film. It shows us how well songs can be integrated into a scene. Four crewmen have to pick up guns for a robbery they have to commit the next day. One of the crewmen finds the deal fishy and starts firing at the Mexican gun vendor thinking that it is a set up. What follows is a Mexican stand-off situation in which guns are fired perfectly synchronised to the beat of the 50s Latin rock song ‘Tequila’. We have seen gun and drug deals take place on cinema screens hundreds of times. We have seen these go south even more often. But what we had not seen was a sequence which makes us feel like the bullets and bombs are dancing to the music. Even with our eyes closed, just listening to the scene gives off a sense of urgency due to the precisely calculated intensity of the bullets.
Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is, as he describes it, “a thriller with moments of humour to alleviate tension”. We all know and love Edgar Wright for his masterful visual comedies, like Shaun of the Dead, and Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. The techniques that are unique to his film language are all present in this movie. An example would be the seamless way he transitions from one location to the next, by moving a character or vehicle in the direction the shot will transition to, or visual puns like putting up billboards of companies like Boost to highlight the fast nature of the movie. Edgar Wright incorporates comedy in all its forms in his movies. He uses callbacks time and again, like Baby repeating whatever he casually sees on TV to people in his life (like Monsters, Inc. to his gangster boss). But, what made this movie stand out for me was how its songs are woven into the movie, becoming an important character that helps drive the movie forward.
The movie starts by throwing us into a bank robbery and Baby, the protagonist played by Ansel Elgort, stays in the car, enjoying his music on his iPod while his colleagues commit the crime in the background. We can immediately see how uncomfortable he is with his job. What follows is a high speed car chase, with expert timing; like Grand Theft Auto, but with more morals. Visual cues can be found everywhere in the movie. While on a coffee run (to a shop called Octave), we follow Baby dancing to ‘Harlem Shuffle’, while the lyrics show up on screen as graffiti, another way in which music pushes the plot ahead. His carefree nature compels us to put on our dancing shoes and shake our heads with the music.
We soon learn why music has an all consuming power over Baby. His mother, who was a singer, brought music into his life and bought him his first iPod. Baby witnessed his parents’ death when they got in a car accident. Due to the accident, Baby gets diagnosed with Tinnitus (Archer fans will understand how bad it can get) and listens to music to drown out the humming in his ears. But, music is clearly more to Baby. His moves are dictated by the beat of whatever song he listens to. At one point, when the robbers spend too much time in the car, he restarts the song and asks them to wait till the lead guitar kicks in. He even has different I-Pods for different days and moods (including a pink and glittery one). The soundtrack travels from hard rock to R&B to pop according to the tempo and nature of the scene.
The sets are vibrant and match the pace of the movie and songs. Wherever intense scenes need to be shot, the sets mimic the mood with bright colours (eg. diner, warehouse). Softer colours are used in places that are safe (eg. laundromat, restaurant). The use of the colour red is extremely prominent (Diner, Bats’s outfits etc.) to signify speed and bloodshed. As an audience, we know that Bats, played by Jamie Foxx is a threat due to his somewhat psychotic nature, but he is highlighted from the very beginning by his red sweatshirt and jacket compared to the achromatic scheme of everyone else’s clothes.
Music is the head and tail of this movie. Most of the scenes are shot in tandem to the songs on Baby’s iPod. Actions and the beats of the songs are perfectly in sync, be it the wipers of a car to ‘Bellbottoms’ by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, shooting guns to ‘Tequila’ by Button Down Brass or just placing money and coffee on a table to ‘Harlem Shuffle’ by Bob and Earl. The brightly coloured sets coupled with upbeat songs makes this movie an energetic change at a slow time like this.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.