The ‘silent hero’, the ‘one last job’, the ‘damsel in distress’ – all familiar tropes, but in Edgar Wright’s terrific Baby Driver, these standards are re-mixed and subverted anew. Baby Driver’s sort of the yang to the yin of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. Both films take the familiar tropes that Walter Hill perfected in cult-classic The Driver – in particular Ryan O’Neal’s silent hero – and twist them on their head. For Refn that means beneath the visage of the stoic, silent hero lurks an emotionally unstable sociopath. For Wright, however, that means beneath the silent hero lurks a broken hearted child. Drive is all darkness and angst; Baby Driver is brightness and fun. One day, they’ll make a hell of a double feature.
In Baby Driver, Baby (Ansel Elgort) whiles away the hours as a getaway driver for a crew of bank-robbers (Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez) at the behest of mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey). See – Baby incidentally stole some money from Doc and now to pay it off, must lend his considerable driving talents on a series of robberies. But after Baby falls in love with a wholesome waitress (Lily James), he yearns to get out of the criminal life to, well, less than ideal results.
In the following interview with Edgar Wright, he discusses subverting the tropes of crime films past, the importance of ‘original films’, and whether Walter Hill has even seen Baby Driver yet. He also gives updates on a number of projects in development (Grasshopper Jungle, Collider & Shadows) and discusses whether or not he’ll just make his own original material from hereon out. For the full interview, read below.
I was just reading the interview you did with Walter Hill for Empire on The Driver… So I’m interested, have you shown Baby Driver to Walter yet?
Edgar Wright: No — he’s very funny Walter. He makes a big point of ‘I’m going to pay to see it.’ I told him, ‘He doesn’t need to pay to see it.’ The other day I was on the phone with him and he said, ‘I saw your trailer in front of Alien: Covenant’. And I was like, ‘Why are you paying to see Alien: Covenant?’
[Walter Hill, of course, produced the original Alien; he has a ‘Producer’ credit on Alien: Covenant as well]
Wright: And he goes, ‘ Yeah – I’d just rather see it with paying audiences.’ So I guess Walter Hill is going to pay to see Baby Driver, which is ridiculous. I told him I’d reimburse him the money… But he wasn’t having it.
Well I’m interested to hear what he thinks [because] the character of Baby Driver is almost of subversion of the wordless [existential] hero of Walter’s films.
Wright: …I mean, you always have strong, silent types in movies right back to Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen or Alan Ladd. But I liked the idea of giving some sort of reasoning to [his silence]. Part of it has to do with his hearing issue, but also the idea that he doesn’t want to talk too much with the rest of the gang because he doesn’t want to make himself an object of interest. At the start of the movie, he’s fooling himself that he’s not a criminal. His policy seems to be sit at the back of class, don’t make eye contact with anybody, just get my share of the profit and go home; but it doesn’t really work like that because his very presence as this fresh-faced kid immediately sparks interest. So every time he’s with a new crew he’s being prodded and interrogated. I just liked this idea of the unpaid intern in the gang of bank-robbers being a source of curiosity.
How cognizant are you of the tropes of the heist genre and playing against them?
Wright: Oh, yeah — I’ve watched hundreds of heist movies. So sometimes there’s something you’re specifically looking to subvert and sometimes through osmosis… But even the thing with the ‘one last job and I’m done’ [trope], it becomes more a case of language and misunderstanding. There’s a difference between ‘one more job and I’m done’ and ‘one more job and we’re straight’. Baby doesn’t understand what the second part of that means…
In a lot of heist films, there’s typically a detective character [Bruce Dern in The Driver; Pacino in Heat]. What made you steer away from that formula?
Wright: I wanted no speaking police parts because I wanted this sense of law enforcement on the fringes of the story, their presence getting ever and ever bigger… Do you ever watch police chase videos?
Wright: There’s a really nightmarishly garish video that some kid… It’s not a funny story. This ends really badly. This kid, who was pretty much a straight A student, for some reason was speeding and did not stop when the cops chased after him and that one decision to hit the accelerator rather than the break turns into the last fifteen minutes of [his] life. Those videos of police chases where someone’s in a car or they’re fleeing on foot and you can see [from] the helicopter shots, the car coming in or the police officers coming in — it’s just nightmarish to me. I’m not a big games player but when I’m playing things like Grand Theft Auto, there’s this sheer intensity of the law enforcement showing up. The premise of [Baby Driver] is that you start the first heist with the fantasy of being in a high-speed chase. Then the second and the third chase introduce real life elements, which make things morally complex. There are really tough life or death decisions. This sense of human collateral. So I wanted to make a crime movie, especially for a Grand Theft Auto generation, where all of these choices have devastating ramifications. So the second chase basically destroys all of Baby’s attempts to blanket himself to what’s happening and then the third heist forces him into some really tough decisions.