Overall Plot: 7
Audience Assumptions: No familiarity
Part One: The Action
I am not a fan of action films. I am, however, a fan of action when it is well done. Sequences in films, books, or other media of characters running away from things, fighting things, climbing things, and performing other athletic feats of strength and skill need to be more than a raw show of bodily prowess in order to impress me. I will take snappy dialogue or a credible cry-face over gunfights and grunting any day, unless the combat provides something I can sink my teeth into – details, pacing, choreography, plot relevance, humor. I say all this, because Baby Driver features some of the most remarkable editing, in its action scenes and beyond, that I have seen in the past five years or more.
Part Two: Parody and Editing
The film is a sort of a loose parody, poking fun at action films involving cars, guns, and crime, like the Fast and the Furious franchise, some modern superhero films, and especially cop-and-robber style action thrillers. I call it a loose parody because it doesn’t particularly try to rip on any one film, and even though it plays with tropes common to the crime genre, like the “one last job” before the hero is out of the criminal world, Baby Driver is still very much within the genre itself. If anything, it makes fun of these films simply by being tighter, more sharply written, and more light-hearted than other action films tend to be. The action scenes are relatively short and the film only features three or four major car chase sequences, but each of these comes with setup, framing, and pacing that allows the audience to absorb almost everything that happens in the few minutes of the scene.
This is in stark contrast to the recent trend of editing in most action films, where combat or chases are cut so that shots last no more than a few seconds, and are often combined with camera shake, poor lighting, and close-framed shots. The “shaky-camera” style has its place, and is useful for simulating disorientation. Baby Driver occasionally uses short takes to a similar effect, but it is refreshing to see longer cuts with close framing that still provides sufficient information to allow the audience to keep up with the action. The editing of the action scenes is highly reminiscent of that in films like Mad Max: Fury Road and the Bourne series.
Part Three: That Music
Outside of the action, and often aiding it as well, is the sound direction of the film. The style of the film is largely predicated on the protagonist’s compulsions toward music, and this leads to long takes with pinpoint choreography matched almost uncannily to the rhythm of the music the character is listening to. The moments where no music is playing and characters are silent is likewise important, as the sounds of footsteps, gunshots, car doors, and other ambient noises are also tailored to fit the pace of the scene. The film’s microstructure is like poetry in its attention to detail regarding sound, and often this is also paired up with what the audience sees on the film, in terms of the movement of characters and vehicles, or simply variation in the shots.
Beyond small things like the ringing that plays to simulate the protagonist’s tinnitus when his earbuds are removed, the plotting and characters are also engaging. The film is bright with a good sense of humor, but it isn’t afraid to bring a dark atmosphere to the table for the sake of tension. I very much hope that styles like this, which place a great emphasis on the choreography of editing, and merge humor with weight, will become more prevalent in this and other genres in the next few years. I much prefer it to the artificial “grit” or absurd spectacle that seems so common in modern action films.