The Brilliance of “Baby Driver”

Baby Driver was one of my most anticipated films of 2017 since I am a very big fan Edgar Wright’s previous work. He is a fantastic comedic director but from the trailers, for Baby Driver, I was already able to tell that this would be a more serious story, with also a more serious approach and this made me even more excited than I already was. Another thing that I was able to tell from the trailer was that music would be a very important part in the film.  That reminded me of the bar scene in Shaun Of The Dead, where they beat a zombie in the rhythm of Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen. Now, imagine that scene, but then one hour and forty minutes long plus a doses coolness. Now you have Baby Driver.

To stick with the theme I’ll also be having a soundtrack for this article, a very fitting song that’s also used in the film itself and made by two of my favorite artists; Baby Driver by Simon and Garfunkel.

Music can change the entire tone of a scene. It can make a scene better than it is, but it can also drag the scene down into the darkest pits of horribleness when the wrong song’s chosen. It can be used to enforce emotions, whether it’s sadness or happiness or just because its lyrics fit the scene. Music outside of movies does the exact same thing. We love music in our present day life because it can bring up certain emotions in us. It’s quite magical. Waves of sound hitting our ears as fast as our fasted jet can fly that can alter your state of mind. While they are just sound waves, they can change our entire mood. Our entire day. We can sink into songs, let them absorb us. We can drift away on the melody of songs, forgetting the daily troubles. It’s a gateway to somewhere else for a lot of people. It takes you away from earth for the couple of minutes it’s playing on your iPod. It’s the perfect place to go to when you want to be on your own, but it can also bring people together. Music is something magical and Edgar Wright was able to see its power and abilities and translate it to the big screen. And he did that in Baby Driver.

Music has always played a big role in Edgar Wright’s films. He’s used it as a comedic tool, where the lyrics fitted the situation ironically, or he’s used it with a more serious approach to generate sad feelings with the viewer. He managed to do both things with the same song in Baby Driver. The one moment, it was used where the lyrics describe the scene, where it came over as a more comedic use, but the other moment, he uses it to emote the viewer. That fact doesn’t really differ this movie from others. A lot of movies have fitting music, which is basically the point of having music in a film, and those films also use music with the same purpose, yet Baby Driver does something different, which makes the songs, the star of the film.

 

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Ansel Elgort, Jamie Foxx, Eiza González and Jon Hamm  in “Baby Driver” – 2017

 

In Baby Driver the songs and what is shown go hand in hand. The film was built around songs, rather than add songs in post-production. The songs were even written into the screenplay. Scenes were as long as the song used in the scene was. They were edited to the beat, actions they do in the scene were choreographed like a dance. Steps match up with the beat, movements do as well… It’s like a musical, just not with the actors singing, but with background music to which the scene was choreographed, just like Scott Pilgrim VS the World was a musical, but instead of randomly starting to sing, they started to fight. Wright apparently loves unconventional musicals, and they work perfectly. The film pays a lot of attention to having the scene fit with the song that’s playing at the moment. Edgar Wright’s team was editing the film at the moment while they were shooting so everything would line up, Ansel Elgort was really listening to the songs that were in the scenes on his iPod, so he could perfectly time his movements. Scenes were planned out so they would last as long as the song would be. There’s a scene where the song’s too short for the scene, so they have Baby rewind the song so it would fit perfectly, quite a funny detail in my opinion, but also very creative on Wright’s part. It’s really a technical masterpiece. Take for example the first scene of the film:

We start off by hearing a long, high pitched, monotone beep, which places us immediately in the head of the main character, Baby. Baby has tinnitus, which causes you to hear a continuous beep. That’s why he listens to music all the time, to drown it out. It’s an unsettling tone, which already creates a tense atmosphere, something Wright used throughout the film to its fullest potential. There were no real moments of silence throughout the film because when the music stopped, the beep tone came back. Letting us hear the beep, makes us feel more attached to the character of Baby because it puts us in his head, we are there with him in the moment, experiencing what he’s experiencing. Same goes for the songs, we get to hear what he’s hearing. Next up a song starts playing, Bellbottoms by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. At the first beat, Baby looks at the camera, the second one we cut to Jon Bernthal’s character, the third to Jon Hamm’s and lastly Eiza  González her character. This scene is already setting us up for a movie based on scenes that cut and timed to the music playing in the background. When the music starts to kick in, right after we cut to Eiza González her character, she opens the door, quickly followed by her accompanies, who also do this to the beat of the song. They close the door, to the beat, they open the trunk… to the beat… You get the idea. They walk to the bank, and while they’re doing so the background noises of the street are integrated into the song. The beeping sound of a truck backing up, fits with the duduh dun dun (really have no clue how to describe this), honking in the background also happens to the beat, the car passing by makes a sound which also fits perfectly with the song. But anyway, when the characters enter the bank and the music really kicks in, we’re left alone with Baby, who’s jamming out to the song. He’s lip-syncing to the song, dancing to it, tapping on the car, on his head, the steering wheel, all to the beat. All perfectly timed to the music, very similar to the music video Edgar Wright directed in 2011 for Mint Royale, which mirrors this scene very well.  Here’s that video clip:

This part of the song serves as a timer for how long Bernthal, Hamm, and González – whose characters are respectively called Griff, Buddy and Darling – will need to rob the bank, just like in the video clip the main character plays a song of two minutes and forty-five seconds, which is the time he’ll have to wait. The police car passes by, whose sirens slowly fade away, as the song also fades to silent for a second, to then kick in with a heavy guitar. The heavy guitar sounds like people screaming, which is very fitting, because right when the guitar kicks in, Baby notices that Griff is shooting at the ceiling with a shotgun, which would evidently cause people to scream. This moment also teaches us about Baby. We see his reaction to the gunfire, and he seems to be disgusted by it, he seems appalled. He doesn’t like murder, well I guess not a lot of people do, but he doesn’t want anyone to die at any jobs he does, something that would come into play later on in the film. Here they’re merely hinting at it. mv5bmjm3mjq1mzkxnl5bml5banbnxkftztgwodk1odgymji-_v1_sy1000_cr006741000_al_Then the jazz part of the song ends, to change to a more rock version, right when the alarm starts to go off. The trio of robbers quickly rush to the car and jump in, where we have a fun little visual gag of Jon Bernthal pointing forwards, insinuating that Baby should drive forwards, but Baby does the exact opposite of it, which leaves us with a funny reaction of Griff. It’s “blink or you’ll miss it”- joke, but nonetheless fun to see. After this, we get an amazing chase sequence where the tire screeching, police sirens, are all timed to the beat of the song, just like the editing. We follow the quartet racing through the streets of LA, trying to escape the police, when Baby suddenly makes a fast U-turn into a back alley where a new obstacle awaits them. Baby has to zigzag between a green van backing up and a small truck, also backing up. Right at that moment, the rhythmic guitar in the background disappears and the drums become the center of attention, creating tiny moments of silence, which makes the moment feel slower than it actually is, creating a more intense moment.
They drive to the highway, where Baby manages to escape the police, by maneuvering himself between two red cars, to then, when they pass under a bridge, make one of those cars drive in the spot where he was driving, by forcing them to do so by driving in front of said car he wanted to switch places with.
They’re able to drive unnoticed, for a while when they suddenly bump into a police car, patrolling the street in front of the ally they’re driving in. Baby manages to slow down right in time, so the vehicle can pass by, which then gives them the opportunity to drive into the car garage, while the sound of passing concrete poles add to the song playing in the background, after which the car comes to halt, just like the scene and just like the song.

 

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Jamie Foxx in “Baby Driver” – 2017

 

I’ll just analyze that one scene, mostly because I only have the footage for that scene so you can see what I’m talking about, but also because if I would continue to analyze other scenes, this article would become too long. This scene is just a taste of what the movie is and only shows a snippet of how well Wright utilized music in this film. There’s a very impressive shootout scene in the film where every gunshot is timed to the beat of Tequila, which creates a very fast paced, tense sequence. Or the scene after the one that I’ve just analyzed is also brilliantly done. It’s totally different from the previously mentioned scenes because this one isn’t centered on a big chase scene or action sequence; it’s just about Baby walking. In the scene, I’m talking about we follow Baby walking down the street to a coffee shop to pick up four cups of the tasty substance. It’s a three-minute continuous take, where Ansel Elgort is dancing to the song drumming in his ears, while the graffiti in the background is spelling out lyrics from the song. It’s something not a lot of people would’ve noticed happening since it’s a subtle detail, but it really shows how creative Edgar Wright is in his visual style of directing.

I could be analyzing this whole movie, but I’ll leave it at this. Thank you for reading and if you liked this, you might also like An Ode to Edgar Wright, which was the start of “Edgar Wright”-week on this blog, where I write An Ode to Edgar Wright, review, or in this case sort of analyze, Baby Driver and lastly rank all of Edgar Wright’s films. That last one should be up in the weekend. Sorry that this article came out today rather than yesterday, but I didn’t manage to finish it by then because it turned out to be quite a busy day, so sorry for that.

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6 thoughts on “The Brilliance of “Baby Driver”

  1. Already starting to appreciate Edgar Wright even more after reading this, and I didn’t realize just how much music factored in to his other films as well. What a filmmaking weapon. Great descriptions of the choreographed scenes – I still have not fully wrapped my head around all the ways this ‘music first’ concept affected the production of this film. Awesome post! I’m sure I’ll revisit this.

    Liked by 1 person

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