Facing the Music in ‘Baby Driver’
Accountability is such a huge component of action films that sometimes we forget how important it is. Sure, the Avengers can save the day, but as we saw with Captain America: Civil War, there has to be accountability. Bad guys can take Liam Neeson’s family all they want, but they will face the consequences of their actions. Hell, bad guys often evade prosecution, and then you get movies where the hero is someone who has to circumvent the law in order to bring accountability to wrongdoers. Edgar Wright recognized this with Hot Fuzz, and he does an excellent job of handling it again with his latest film, Baby Driver.
There are few moments in Baby Driver where the titular character, Baby (Ansel Elgort), ever really has to “face the music.” He’s young, fast, and has a lot of music to drive alongside, which is why it not only comes as a shock, but also as a fitting closure to Baby’s arc, that the final act of the film revolves exclusively around facing consequences. There are three specific beats in the end that carry momentum throughout while wrapping Baby’s character development in a nice bow.
Warning: major spoilers ahead involving Baby Driver’s third and final act
First, Baby kills a man. Well, let’s rewind and talk about the time he stopped someone else from killing a man. You have to expect a little blood on you when you’re in the crime world, but Baby actually spends the majority of the movie getting away clean – that’s why he’s the best. But when Bats (Jamie Foxx) goes on a heist with him, Baby quickly learns that a loose cannon is a bad backseat driver. Bats is the chaotic version of Baby: he’s calm and collected, but he will kill without remorse to ensure he stays alive. Baby is calm and collected, but he would rather go out of his way to save someone than to let them die – even if it means his life. Bats tries to kill a man who is chasing them in a truck and would become less of a threat had he been killed. Baby thwarts the plan by making Bats miss his shot.
So, what happens when you agitate a violent individual? Well, he becomes agitated with you. Baby now becomes the #1 target on Bats’ hit list, even without the explicit declaration. There’s a clear sign when Baby knows he is going to have to do something about his colleague, and that’s during the first tense diner sequence of Baby Driver, where Baby’s girlfriend, Debora (Lily James), is almost killed by Bats. A quick intervention from Baby seals the deal when Bats becomes agitated by Baby thwarting his plan yet again. It solidifies Bats as the main antagonist to Baby, but it also signals that the next time Bats wants to kill someone, he’s going to do it.
Baby actually spends a lot of the movie (and presumably most of his life in crime) sitting in the backseat, metaphorically. He doesn’t lead any charge or intervene when something is not to his liking; he has a job, and he’s going to do it. It’s all groundwork for the moment when Baby has to act, when he is finally put in a position where someone he cares about can be killed – or when he learns that violence doesn’t have to happen, and that he can stop it.
When a post office worker is about to be killed by Bats, Baby steps in and pulls a Death Proof by accelerating the car forward and impaling Bats through the windshield. This isn’t just a moment of punctuated violence, but also the comedown from the fantastical, care-free life Baby has managed to have up to this point. There are no more clean getaways for Baby so long as he surrounds himself in bloodshed. He saves many by killing Bats, but he is now forced to “face the music,” and it’s not music you can drive to.
By ditching the car, another significant moment for Baby is not being able to get away from a situation as quickly and efficiently as possible. Compare him to Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming, who claims that he is “nothing without the suit.” Baby is a force of nature when behind the wheel, but by throwing him onto his feet he is out of his element. He still knows how to move (and by God does he ever), but he still winds up bumping into Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), and another person dies, this time indirectly due to Baby’s initial killing of Bats. The action of killing Bats has consequences, with the two immediate ones being Baby not having a car to drive and him also having two new enemies in the form of Buddy and Darling.
However, it all leads to the fact that there will be no clean getaway. Even when Baby gets back in a vehicle, things don’t magically get better. He performs some altruistic actions, like giving his foster father a safe place to stay, but he still winds up back at the diner facing the music once again. As Buddy sits there threatening him and Debora, it is obvious that Baby will always have Buddy gunning for him so long as he lives. He’s so close to getting away, but Baby will have to kill Buddy before any of that can happen.
It is rather fitting that Buddy’s murder comes from Baby’s decision to get his tapes – a piece of his youth and past – back from Doc (Kevin Spacey). As he pushes against his naïve sensibilities, Baby still clings to his old life, because that’s the life he still wants to have. It’s not enough to just kill everyone that threatens him, but he has to try to revert back to a safer time. In a movie with a Hollywood ending, Baby Driver would definitely have just let Baby and Debora drive away into the sunset, listening to his Mom sing through the radio. Life is filled with roadblocks, however, that which you eventually just have to accept.
That is the final, great beat in Edgar Wright’s car-chase crime film – the acceptance of responsibility. It’s a key staple of adulthood and Baby can’t continue to function as a human if he shrugs it off at every turn. While Debora is ready to go on a pulse-pounding adventure with him, Baby knows that’s not a healthy life to live, and thus the physical roadblock of police that impede their escape from violence and heartache propels Baby to do the right thing. Their romance stalls, and Baby does his time in prison, but he’s accounted for his sins and is no longer bringing that baggage with him when he continues his life with Debora.
It’s as much of a fairy tale ending as a getaway driver can have without being on the run his whole life. The roadblock is just there to remind Baby that nothing comes without a cost. As he gets out of the car, he accepts the consequences of his actions, but on the other side of the roadblock is more road, and it’s going to be really difficult to convince him and Debora not to continue their getaway when nothing is in their way.
July 12, 2017 at 11:03 am
I went to see this film with a bunch of mates that all have pretty decent well rounded film tastes. They had seen the trailers but I hadn’t (I’ve been busy). They were excited and thought we’d all really enjoy it.
All of us came away decidedly unimpressed and feeling pretty mixed up.
I got that it has it’s streangths and I thouroghly enjoyed some of the scenes individually – the car chases and some of the tense heist build up worked well. And I was up for the idea of a movie that has different things to say about being a fun action thriller . I liked Jamie Foxx – but that was about it.
The tone and the feel was all over the place! It never felt cohesive – more like 4 different types of films vying for attention. The music and it’s syncronicity with the visuals and the story didn’t feel like a crucial story pillar – more like a misplaced mashup of a music video.
Also – I just didn’t buy the central character or particularly connect with him – I was impressed at times – embarrassed by / for him (that coffee run scene!) at times, but never felt particularly invested in his story.
The film left me really mixed up – I kept feeling like I was enjoying it but then it would pivot into totally different genre tropes with extra on the nose visual cues to hammer home it’s diversity and eclectic tastes.
I’ve tried to find reviews that share my take on it but I can’t and I’m baffled. I will watch it again closely when it comes to a streaming service as I’m open to being totally wrong – But my feeling is that it’s a massively over rated film that won’t stand the test of time.
Help me out here – what’s up?
July 15, 2017 at 9:28 am
I entirely agree that the movie had no central vision. It felt like they wrote three different scripts and couldn’t choose so they went with all of them.
But Chris, my main gripe with your piece is the idea that there is any real responsibility being played out. Throughout the movie, Baby portrays himself/is portrayed as keeping his hands clean. But that’s obviously a very naive view of a movie which he spends in the driver’s seat as more than a mere accessory to murders. Driving ahead a few meters so that violence is out of view is blinding yourself to the fact that it’s occurring. So the scene at the end where Baby quickly gets caught, goes to trial, then prison, then is released is extremely weak. All we see is “he was a great guy, he goes through years of imprisonment in the blink of an eye and does not change one iota(!)”. It completely romanticises his actions instead of making it seem like there were real consequences.
For my part, I did not enjoy the plot line with Jon Hamm, which turned into stereotypical revenge porn (and not the good kind). I did just not see the point. (Yes, plot satisfaction of him being safe but that doesn’t justify its stereotyping of that sort of scene.)
I was very hyped for this movie and enjoyed parts of it but aside from Wright’s cinematographic novelties I found it deeply flawed and almost unenjoyable.