Baby Driver: A perfect marriage of music and cinema

You know how when you sometimes listen to a particular track, you imagine situations that belong in a movie and then you wish your life had background music so that it would resemble a movie? Baby Driver is one of those movies, imagined by the right person and brought to life at the right time.

Not since Martin Scorsese’s Casino have I seen this many songs used in a film. Almost every scene of Edgar Wright’s magnificently conceived crackerjack of a film contains a track or two. Wright has been eager to have this “baby” for such a long time that the very music he had picked to use in the film must’ve been also the inspiration for it. In a way, I think it’s a good thing that Wright didn’t get to make Ant-Man, because he is better off making independent projects like this with no one to interfere with his creative freedom.

I can say without doubt that it’s easily Wright’s best film. The idea of a heist movie with a getaway driver as the central character has been done a few times before, most notably Walter Hill’s The Driver (one of my favorite films from the ‘70s) and recently Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, which is basically a quasi-remake of The Driver. Baby Driver begins in a similar fashion as these two films, only here, the tone is more light-hearted and more amped up due to the frenetic pacing, rapid editing and some impressively fluid and admirable driving skills. It’s a small taste of what is yet to come.

Using a name like ‘Baby’ for your central character affords you certain privileges, like coming up with some clever lines as well as some classic Soul/R&B tracks which contain the word ‘baby’ in them; and there are plenty of those songs given that most of them are about love. There is a perfectly good reason why music plays a dominant role in the film, and that is the protagonist himself, played by Ansel Elgort – a young man with an ear condition called tinnitus, which he developed during childhood after an accident, and the music is able to drown out all the constant ringing. Baby’s life has background music, and it comes from his iPod.

When Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey and Jon Hamm are playing some wildly eccentric and unpredictable characters, rest assured that things are going to get increasingly hairy and exhilarating. Baby plays the road like a musical instrument and he, along with whatever car he is driving, are the components of that instrument. He has successfully managed to calibrate his brain in such a way that whatever music he chooses to play at the time becomes perfectly synchronized with his brain waves, and everything he does seems to be informed by that music. I imagine that if you take an EEG of his brain, it might look like the equalizer panel of a digital music player.

As the film progresses, it develops its own rhythm and soul.  I’ve never seen a film, until now, where the fusion of music with cinematic images is done so effectively; in one shootout sequence, each gunshot matches the big, sudden beats of the music with clockwork precision.  This is not the first time that a director has timed and cut the sequences in his film to music – Sergio Leone choreographed some of the camera movements in Once Upon a Time in the West to musical cues composed by Ennio Morricone – but this magic trick is none more so apparent than in Baby Driver.


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