Written for Acculturated
July 7th, 2017
The recently-released movie Baby Driver has already earned its spot in the pantheon of great heist movies. Much praise has been heaped on the film for its stylish and innovative approach to music, and indeed, the movie almost seems to revolve around the music instead of vice versa. With snappy dialogue, well executed action, and a superb story-line, the end product can only be described as slick. The film follows the titular Baby, an incredibly talented, and begrudging, getaway driver for a crime boss to whom he owes a large sum of money. Time and time again he’s forced to drive in daring robberies that only succeed because of his panache behind the wheel. Like other heist films, the robberies and escapes are thrilling to watch. Until they’re not. And Baby’s fellow robbers are charismatic. Until they’re not. Because unlike many other caper movies, Baby Driver shows more than the excitement of a successful heist; it also shows the ugly side of crime.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead!)
The movie opens with Baby driving up to a bank with three occupants in his car. The music starts and, as if on cue, everyone but Baby exits, pulls a bandana up to obscure the lower part of his face, and walks into the bank armed with guns. The operation is a success, with the bandits making out with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and Baby evading the police in thrilling fashion. A short while later, and Baby is driving again. This time the target is an armored truck, and the mission isn’t as straightforward. The crew grabs the goods and Baby is about to drive them away to safety when he notices a guard lying in a pool of blood. He is noticeably disturbed, and is distracted enough that a bystander is nearly able to stop the crew from escaping by ramming his truck into the getaway vehicle. The car is so badly damaged they’re forced to steal another, and while returning to the safety of their hideout one of the robbers realizes he left his shotgun in the first car, a rather incriminating piece of evidence that could trace the escapade back to him and the others. He’s conspicuously absent from the post-robbery team meeting, and Baby is later asked to dispose of a car that has his corpse in the trunk. Baby vows not to drive again, but when his loved ones are threatened he returns to the job. But gone is his bravado, the confidence in the driver’s seat that made him so good. After witnessing another murder Baby snaps, and drives the car into a flatbed truck. He tries to escape, but eventually gives himself up to the police, recognizing that he needs to pay for his crimes.
While most people would say that they oppose criminal behavior, the typical heist movie, such as Ocean’s Eleven or Italian Job, convinces viewers to root for a group of criminals, despite the fact that the premise of the film is the commission of a crime. The conspirators are often charismatic, the plans are brilliant, and the heists are exhilarating. Baby Driver toys with viewers’ expectations of the genre, first presenting a scene that seems to fit the mold, then throwing it into complete disarray. As the movie progresses you can see how each job weighs down Baby’s soul more and more, eventually pushing him over edge.
Two of Baby’s frequent collaborators in crime are Buddy and Darling, a deeply devoted PDA-obsessed married couple. While the other criminals behave cruelly to Baby, the two take pity on him. At one point, Buddy tells Baby not to answer the phone the next time he’s called for a job. He seems almost fatherly to Baby at times, and with Jon Hamm playing the role it’s hard not to like the guy. He’s the charismatic felon stock character, a thief with a heart of gold, who robs, sure, but is basically decent. But the film flips this trope on its head too, with Buddy first showing violent tendencies when his wife is threatened or flirted with, and ultimately trying to kill Baby and his girlfriend after blaming Baby for Darling’s death during a shootout with the police.
Critics have had a lot to say about Baby Driver, and how its music in particular marks it as different from other heist movies. The idea isn’t wrong; it’s just incomplete. The thing that truly distinguishes Baby Driver from other heist movies is that it shows crime for what it is: always wrong.