Thursday, 21 December 2017

Baby Driver (2017): A Review

The Prologue

We saw this trailer for Baby Driver a while ago and at the time we thought it looked really cool. Today before we watched the film we rewatched the trailer and agreed with our past selves. Right now I am writing a review... of the movie, not the trailer.

The Review

(Or, I needed a way of pointing out I was going to start off with a pretty massive spoiler and couldn't think of a better way of doing this).

Having watched Baby Driver I have to say that I greatly preferred the movie the trailer seemed to promise me.

The Trailer's Movie hits a lot of common beats. There's a reason for that: they're great beats. Baby's set up as a get away driver who's being coerced into the business and not allowed out, at pain of his girlfriend's safety. He and his girlfriend conspire to try and get out of the business, and intend to hijack the "first job back even after he was meant to be out" in order to do this. Doc (Kevin Spacey's character) is bad guy that Baby's trying to get away from.

The Movie's Movie is a much less manic and humour-filled film than that of the trailer, but the bigger issue is why this is so. Had the film been Layer Cake to the trailer's Snatch that would have been one thing. Indeed, Layer Cake is just better than Snatch no matter how much I like both films. But it's not. The issue is that the subtle plot differences and omitted facets combine to create a less interesting storyline.

Where in the trailer the movie's progression seems to follow the standard "last job", "threat" and "escape" formula that seems so familiar in the actual film it's more "job", "meet girl/the last job", "aren't you still working with us, Baby?" and "manic ending". This sounds like essentially the same film but it's all the difference in the world.

The trailer positions Baby as a protagonist who does questionable things but is ultimately someone we can get behind. He's a young man forced into a situation we'll watch him escape. In the movie we essentially watch a series of vignettes. There's the "Griff job", there's the "last job", there's "Debbie", there's "working with Bats" and then there's "the ending". The net effect is that the ending just seems to happen because that's what happens in a movie.

Baby for no particular reason decides that rather than grabbing Debbie and driving off, he should go ahead with the planned heist. This let's us have an apparent ending to the film. But only because Doc makes the really dumb decision to have Baby go in and case the post office a bit earlier. It has a great meta explanation but "in-universe" it just lets us meet Sam. There were other ways of doing this.

Let's talk about Bats.

Bats is an interesting character. To return to Layer Cake, he's Michael Gambon's Eddie Temple. But instead of the "Layer Cake" speech at the end, Bats gives us a couple of different "insights" to the nature of the criminal game. The trailer would have us believe he's a loose cannon but the truth is the film depicts him as more or less a very ruthless and extremely decisive operator.

With the way the plot plays out, Baby needed to have been depicted as an individual who wasn't at arms length and thus to stand in contrast as a different and competing way of playing the same game. You could almost see Baby as XXXX and Bats as a Duke-Morty hybrid. That would have worked.

As it happens, Doc's aforementioned stupidity makes Baby worn the teller, who gets the security guard, who gets killed by Bats, which makes Baby space out, which makes Bats threaten Baby, which leads to Baby killing Bats with some car fu, which means they all go on the run and just so happen to meet back together in order that Darling can die, so that Buddy can chase Baby around for the last bit of the film. It's kind of enjoyable, but it's not the Zorba the Greek sequence from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and it's not the closing voice over of Layer Cake either.

If you want Baby to be at arm's length he needs to be like Lock Stock's group of four friends. He and Debbie come up with a ploy which just so happens to fold into the happenings of Doc. Even better you can have Buddy and Darling's "feelings" cause them to conspire with the guy Buddy knows.

If you want Baby to be a spanner in the works, you've got to put him in the works. You have to let him be a real part of the operation. You've got to let the Bats/Baby personal friction play out as a philosophical/operational contest.

Baby Driver tries to half arse the material it has. I think this why it makes its characters do arbitrary dumb things for no real reason. It's not clever enough to be about an accidental and purposeless universe, and it's not set up right for me to just swallow the ending as the logical extension of the start. And it sure as hell isn't anywhere near as good as its trailer.

Yes, I'm aware XXXX was in some sense at arm's length seeing as how he executed the vision of James Lionel Price but he was management, and the plot of his film is driven by his actions and reactions.

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