The latest film from Cornetto Trilogy director Edgar Wright is good enough that all the ways it could have been better are painfully obvious.
Baby Driver is about a getaway driver (The Fault in Our Stars‘s Ansel Elgort) trying to get away. (Eyy.) After meeting Debora (Lily James), Baby is stuck between doing one last job for his criminal patron (Kevin Spacey) and running away with his new sweetheart.
It’s an action film, so you don’t go in expecting a whole lot of plot. But even then you’ll be surprised by quite how little plot there is. The central conceit runs out pretty quickly, meaning the film scrabbles about from the halfway point looking for interesting and unexpected ways its superior actors can fill the time. With characters getting killed off, the last quarter is forced to suddenly throw you into a not altogether satisfying revenge narrative.
It’s also far less funny than I was expecting. Rather than an affectionate parody of action films and their tropes, as you might expect from Wright, you get a straight action film with a couple of very funny jokes thrown in.
Baby Driver‘s biggest flaw, though, is Ansel Elgort. He is not a charismatic enough screen presence for the film to work.
Now I don’t mean that the character should have been louder, or cockier, or anything like that. This is not an examination of characterisation. It’s not even a criticism of the technicalities of his performance.
But when your main character’s whole thing is enigmatic silence, you have to cast an actor who can be enigmatic.
Elgort was outshone even by Lily James, and her entire schtick as an actress is blandly nice. That tells you how engaging his performance was.
Everything about the plot lends itself to showcasing all of Edgar Wright’s flashy stylistic tricks. Getaway driver? Pretty good action sequences. Baby’s got tinnitus and listens to music to drown it out? About 90% of the film is soundtracked, and the coordination of sound and action is so low-key – it’s not being used for gags like his style usually dictates – that it’s just quietly clever and very satisfying.
So if you go and see Baby Driver, you might not like the plot. You might not like Ansel Elgort’s acting.
But there is some top notch cinematography.