Edgar Wright is one of the UK's most interesting directors, one of the (surprisingly) few modern directors who has a style and energy that is immediately recognisable. That style was immediately obvious in his first project with Simon Pegg, the superb TV show Spaced, and carried on through their three films together (the Three Colours Cornetto Trilogy: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World's End). But it went to 11 in his first Pegg-less movie, Scott Pilgrim versus the World, a hyperkinetic comic book movie which had a colossal amount of style, wit, charm and heart. Hell, it even permeated through his script for Ant-Man (even thought Wright was - ill-advisedly - removed from the movie as director shortly before production began).
Baby Driver is Wright's first movie as sole writer and director, and isn't based on any pre-existing property. It does draw, however, on his music video for "Blue Song" by Mint Royale (which gets a cameo appearance in the movie as a nod of thanks). It's a movie which combines its story with its soundtrack, with Baby (Ansel Elgort) using multiple iPods and different playlists to soundtrack his motoring adventures. Wright balletically choreographs the car chases so they run in time to the music and it's all breathlessly exciting.
The film has a few issues, however. It can't quite sustain the vibe and energy the movie opens with, unlike Scott Pilgrim, and starts flagging in its second half. In particular, the female characters have relatively little to do (Eiza Gonzalez's female gang member doesn't get much to do, but does nail one of the best scenes in the film when she shoots down Foxx's character's macho posturing). James risks feeling wasted, especially after she learns about Baby's double life and rather than freaking out as expected actually steps up and starts playing a more prominent role in the story, only to fall back into a supporting role. The film also feels unsure in where it's taking Baby, with it being never entirely clear if he really wants to go straight or if he needs the buzz and energy of his driving. The gunfights in the conclusion feel a bit rote and the movie doesn't even have a concluding car chase, which is surprising.
Still, Baby Driver's first half is a masterclass of direction, editing and music: look out for a lengthy opening one-shot, a tip of the hat to Shaun of the Dead, which is subtle but impressive. Music lovers will also get a kick out of the huge number of music cameos in the film: Flea, Sky Ferreira, Big Boi, Killer Mike, Paul Williams and Jon Spencer are among those who make guest appearances. There's also quite a few good laughs (even if it's arguably Wright's least funny film, there's still a few laugh-out-loud moments) and some terrific performances.
Baby Driver (****) is on general release in the UK and USA now.