When Baby (Ansel Elgort) listens, the whole world’s a song. The most sought-after wheelman in town, he earned his nickname because he speaks so rarely it’s as if he never learned to talk—but singing is another matter. With his earbuds in and his sunglasses on, every heist is a carefully chosen playlist, each squeal of the getaway car’s tires a harmony. In Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, even the machine guns fire in time with the beat.
Not all of Baby’s co-criminals—an ever-rotating crew assembled by Kevin Spacey’s meticulous fixer, Doc—cotton to his methods or his withdrawn personality. One hired gun wonders if he’s “slow,” and Jamie Foxx’s Bats, a volatile crook whose every word seethes with the potential for violence, sniffs that “You don’t need a score for the score.” But for Baby, music is life. He’s never without an iPod or four (there’s no way would he trust his constant need for a personal soundtrack to the vicissitudes of streaming), each keyed to a different mood or circumstance. And when the music he needs doesn’t exist, he creates it, taping his interactions with other people and building sound collages around their vocals.
That’s not a bad synecdoche for Baby Driver itself. Wright’s movie is part greatest-hits compilation, part remix, a high-speed all-access tour of car-chase movies that still manages to find a new route. It’s studded with cameos from the worlds of music and film, the most substantial (and nerdy) of which comes as such an unexpected surprise that I gasped out loud in the theater. Wright’s most novel idea is to approach the heist movie like one of Michael Powell’s “composed films,” where every element plays its part in a larger symphony. When Baby struts down the street to Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle,” everything around him falls into place; a trumpet blares, and there’s a shop window with a trumpet in it, tilted just so that Baby can arch his back and pretend to blow into it at the perfect moment. Wright worked with choreographer Ryan Heffington, best known for videos such as Sia’s “Chandelier,” and the result is like a screen musical staged for an audience of one, with a song list so irresistible that even people who can’t hear the music get swept into Baby’s world. Even listening to the soundtrack album in advance feels like a spoiler—moreso even than a recounting of the film’s plot.