Music is a powerful medium. Its rhythm and pace, from the plucking of a gentle melody to the grand sweeping of a symphony, has a way of stirring the heart and capturing the imagination. A moment in time can be captured with just the right tune. It is ever so evident when music is used in the other media. For instance, the throngs of theatrical fans can prove the power of the musical, which captures the emotional heart in its music and pairs it with words to better articulate it. A video game can use its music to set the right pulse for whichever moment a player finds themselves journeying. Of course, there is no place quite like the movies to showcase the power of music. Plenty of scores and songs have cemented their place in the pop cultural consciousness, their notes and words conjuring images from the silver screen. One person who knows this power is director Edgar Wright, whose latest entry showcases the sort of punch that music can deliver. His new film Baby Driver is a stylish entry that showcases a masterful use of music, even if the core story and characters may seem a little thin.
Baby is a man with plenty of problems in his life. For one, he has been suffering from a constant ringing in his ears, ever since a terrible car crash that claimed the lives of his parents. At least for that, he has a multitude of iPods filled with music to help drown out the tone. The far bigger problem is that of Doc, a local criminal kingpin who has Baby under his thumb. Ever since a mistake that landed Baby in debt to Doc, he has been serving him as an extraordinary getaway driver for his heists. Whether it is for criminals like the daring couple Buddy and Darling or the insane Bats, Baby’s intense focus thanks to his music allows him to keep his eyes to the road and pull off some insane escapes. However, he has his eye on the exit. He seeks to break free from Doc, a desire that is stoked further when he begins a romance with a diner waitress named Debora. That plan to escape is challenged, though, by one last job that just might be more dangerous than Baby has expected.
As Edgar Wright’s latest film, Baby Driver does offer plenty of fun. I will say, though, that it does not quite land as well as some of his other films. The main weakness is in terms of the plot and the characters. When it comes to the plot, it hews more on the simpler side. Not just that, but this sort of story has been seen plenty of times before. Likewise, the characters are also simpler, filling out more as archetypes for their roles in the story. The result is a story that feels shallower than some of Edgar Wright’s other works, such as Shaun of the Dead and its use of a romantic comedy core within a zombie movie. That said, even given the simple and familiar nature of the story, this variation on the criminal trying to leave the business is still a sharper-written version than most which try to copy this basic story type. It also helps that the material is delivered with some good performances, from such actors as Kevin Spacey and Lily James. However, there is a particular component where the film truly shines. That component is music and how the film uses that music.
Music permeates all throughout this movie, and not just in the background. Action is frequently synced up to the songs that play. Every gun shot, every rev of the engine, it all plays in beat to the rhythm. A dangerous shootout plays its explosive flair to The Button Down Brass’s cover of ‘Tequila”. A thrilling getaway zooms to the beat of John Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms”. Even a simple walk to get some coffee plays out to Bob and Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle”, complete with images and moments that sync to the lyrics. In addition, the music also works to capture the emotional heart in a moment. A bond over the thrill of a fast drive is showcased with Queen’s “Brighton Rock”, while a tense moment to protect Debora is underscored with Marvin Gaye’s “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up”. The effect gives the film a feeling of being a jukebox musical, without having to actually be a musical. This particular spin on this story, combined with Edgar Wright’s skillful direction and writing, helps to make it stand out above the rest. In a way, it is reminiscent of a movie called Streets of Fire: the story and characters may be a bit thin, but the mood and atmosphere it presents is top notch.
Music is a powerful medium, and movies have been using it as a way to add some real punch to their stories for ages. Baby Driver is one such example of that punch, presenting a near-continuous stream of music synced with action for a thrilling musical feel.