The Inception noise.
The Jaws theme.
The opening bars of L.L. Cool J’s “Deepest Bluest (Shark’s Fin)” as the screen fade’s to black on director Renny Harlin’s 1999 tour-de-force Deep Blue Sea.
Music was an integral part of film even before dialogue. Great music in film can accentuate swagger and heartbreak, punctuate dramatic revelations, and interact and elevate everything from a set to a performance. And yet, the nature of the medium of film and the conventions placed upon it limit just how much interaction the photography and the soundtrack of a film can have with one another.
Rocky doesn’t get to point out how badass his theme is. I assume. I don’t know. I haven’t seen Rocky. Get off my back.
McConaughey doesn’t plug his ears at the aggressive volume of Hans Zimmer’s pipe organ ordnance.
James Bond doesn’t bust out some sweet, sweet air guitar shreddage to John Barry’s classic riff.
If music were a vengeful old deity, bitter for the underappreciated magic it so thanklessly bestows on cinema, writer-director Edgar Wright’s latest film Baby Driver would be a long overdue offering, and it would appease its recipient mightily.
Baby, the titular driver, is a young man with the rest of his life ahead of him, as soon as he works off an old debt by serving as getaway driver to a criminal mastermind and his rotating potpourri of hired guns. Whether he’s buying coffee, busting out sweet donuts and kick-flips and whatever other neat things you do with a car, or hanging out at a diner, Baby is tuned in to his iPod nonstop, the soundtrack he provides his life also serving as the soundtrack to the film.
Baby Driver isn’t a musical, and it isn’t just an action film with a dope soundtrack. It’s a film in which the cinematography, performances and soundtrack seamlessly interlock, forming a sort of Mobius strip in which one informs the other informs the other ad infinitum. The characters in the film acknowledge the music being played even as the music being played acknowledges the actions of the characters. This isn’t an occurrence relegated to a quick gag or a single inspired sequence, this interaction is a constant throughout the entire film.
The interplay between mediums in Baby Driver isn’t done with a wink. The film isn’t breaking the fourth wall. Its setting up elaborately, spectacularly choreographed scenes in which everything at play interlinks organically.
But don’t get the wrong idea. That interplay is no gimmick. Baby Driver is a fun heist film that adeptly sways from thriller, to romance, to comedy, to action. Edgar Wright’s script by no means requires kickass tunes to be interesting and entertaining. Star Ansel Elgort and the rest of the film’s cast, particularly Jon Hamm, deliver great performances and the car chases and action will likely still impress with the film on mute.
Don’t get the wrong idea from Baby Driver.
Probably Darth Vader shouldn’t grab an imperial officer by the ear and point out how badass his theme music is.
Probably Ryan Gosling’s Driver shouldn’t acknowledge how dope his playlist is.
Probably all the booties in Fast and Furious shouldn’t be wagged about in real time to the movie’s soundtrack.
But Baby Driver is exciting. It offers new ideas about the interaction between the various pieces at play in a film, and while I’m not chomping at the bit for a million imitators to try and make the next Baby Driver stylistically, philosophically the idea of reinterpreting the conventions of how a film comes together is a living, breathing horse that could definitely stand to take a few more whacks.