Last year I, like many comic fans, went and saw Suicide Squad. It wasn’t very well received, and frankly, with good reason. Among the film’s many key problems, one thing that leapt out was the soundtrack. It wasn’t that the soundtrack itself was bad. On the contrary, included on it were such classic songs such as House of the Rising Sun, Seven Nation Army and Bohemian Rhapsody. But, with the possible exception of the last one, none of them truly matched the visuals.
It made me realize something: for a film’s soundtrack to truly work, it needs to be more than just a great mixture of songs to release on CD. Even generally matching a character in terms of style isn’t good enough. For a song to really work on the film’s soundtrack, it has to match the visuals. There’s a real art to this, an art that’s usually almost invisible.
When it’s done well, and with a really great song, you don’t notice it, you just think to yourself, “Fuck yeah, this is a fucking awesome scene with a really fucking awesome song!” It’s when it’s done badly, though, such as in the case of Suicide Squad, that you notice.
With the exception of Edgar Wright’s new movie Baby Driver. This film isn’t a great example of how incredible a fusion of great visuals with a great soundtrack can be. It’s actually the perfect example.
Wright’s first directed movie outside of the comedy genre, Baby Driver is in many ways a familiar yet equally fresh take on the crime movie. Focusing on young getaway driver “Baby”, the film focuses on his involvement in several robberies, how he ended up in a life of crime and his dreams of escaping from it, as well as his sweet new relationship with the more innocent Debora. Like I said, this film uses a lot of familiar plot elements that we’ve seen in many other crime movies. So what is it that makes Baby Driver so different?
Well, there is one little interesting thing with Baby that makes the film a lot more interesting. Specifically, it’s his love of music. He is listening to his iPod(s) virtually all the time. And considering it’s mainly his point of view that we’re experiencing the story from, that means we’re getting a constant stream of great songs to listen to.
It’s how the songs are used that make this film, despite being outside of the comedy genre, that distinctly make this an Edgar Wright movie. It isn’t just that he uses cool songs to make a cool visual even cooler. It’s how every single shot of the film is carefully mapped out to match every lyric, every note, every single beat to perfection. From quick cuts to long shots, nothing is wasted, and you can tell that Wright has meticulously planned out every visual to match the audio completely.
We’ve had hints of this for years. The most obvious example would be the Don’t Stop Me Now scene in Shaun of the Dead, but even before then, (with the help of Simon Pegg’s and Jessica Hyne’s great script,) we had the best use of a phone and a clock ever in Spaced.
What’s even more brilliant is how aware Baby and even the other characters are of how an awesome song has to match with what’s happening directly. Moments like Baby needing to play a song from the start to match a robbery is a brilliant little moment that helps to make Baby that much more relatable.
Wright also makes sure to include a really great mix of distinctive characters. In a way, this is carried over from his comedy movies, particularly The Cornetto Trilogy. While the characters played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost would usually be the main focus in those movies, there’d be a few other characters who would stand out, too. (I’m still a big fan of David in Shaun for being the classic “enemy within” figure.)
However, Baby Driver might just have my favourite group of characters in an Edgar Wright movie yet. This is partly because of the shift from comedy to more straight-forward crime movie. While each of these characters may have their quirks, some of them are scary in how sociopathic or even psychopathic they can be. Some of these criminals could snap at any moment, helping to add a lot of tension to the film.
Of course, there are some really great performances too, which helps. Jamie Foxx is fantastic as “Bats”, who is so trigger happy, that you can probably guess what his nickname is short for. But my favourite performance is definitely Jon Hamm as Buddy. He comes across as really likeable. He’s not particularly close with Baby, but there are a couple of genuinely sweet moments when they have a conversation and can really relate to each other. You’re still reminded that he is an armed robber, and therefore not exactly a good person, but Hamm really brings a lot of charm and likability to the character.
While I’ve mentioned that this film isn’t a comedy movie, it still has plenty of great humour. Some of it is due to dialogue, some of it is due to some really absurd moments (my favourite example has to be the argument between the robbers caused by confusion over the masks they’re going to be using). And some it is due to, once again, Baby’s love of music and how well it’s used. “Was he slow?” is quite possibly the funniest scene in the whole movie.
Wright moving outside the genre of absurd comedy that he’s so well-known for was a risky move, but I’m glad he did it. In many ways, Baby Driver is very different to all of his previous films. The American setting, the darker tone, the number of genuinely tense moments throughout.
And yet at the same time, it’s in many ways very typical of his style. The perfect use of visuals to comedy, the great mix of characters, the sheer love of the genre.
Because of all of this, Baby Driver is one of the coolest crime films of the decade, and just might be Wright’s best film yet.