I was almost going to take a pass on this one, because I’m just so sick of car chases and people shooting guns, which now seems to make up the bulk of the vast majority of new films. But, you could say, if movies can now only be car chases and people shooting guns, if we have decided as a culture that that is the ONLY thing we want to see, and we will NEVER, EVER get tired of it, maybe one should try to make a really good movie about car chases and people shooting guns? I’m not saying that’s the thought process that went into this, but that’s kind of the effect: you want a car chase/gunfight movie? Here’s it done really well, with a lot of style, love of genre and panache.
You may have heard that the deal with this movie is that several sequences are set to music; so that the actions, editing, gestures, gunshots and car swerves occur on the beat or at a musical flourish. This ends up being a more successful gimmick than you might imagine, keeps the energy of the movie up and propulsive, and seems quite clever, especially as there are several long tracking shots in which you realize that everything, from the people passing by to the movements of the characters, have been choreographed to be on the beat. I was wondering how long they could sustain it, or would it stop for dialogue scenes [it does], and then I sort of wondered what it would have been like had the music been continuous throughout the film, like in Umbrellas of Cherbourg. The other thought was, if this had come out in the 70s, when this technique would make it really, truly unique and interesting, it would have been one of the major movies of the year. But in this environment, when it has to compete with all the other major blockbusters, and the blockbuster TV shows, and the streaming, and Facebook, and Twitter, and everything else going on constantly, it’s just another blip and has no chance to receive the attention it deserves just for being this audacious, if nothing else.
The story is a pastiche of 50s pulp movies [none of which I know well enough to name one, although it’s the kind of thing that also inspired Wild at Heart] but are the kind of thing with an innocent young couple being drawn into a frightening world of criminals. You can see the genre pieces falling into place even as the thing works wonderfully well and organically. All of the thugs Baby [the main character] has to deal with are psychopaths in their own way, and each of the actors gets a great crime character to make their own. Kevin Spacey may be able to do roles like this in his sleep, but he can make the clever dialogue and little grace notes sing wonderfully. Lily James is like a cartoon doe, which I mean as a compliment, as everything and everyone here is a cartoon—which I also mean as a compliment.
The character of Baby is comically [well, I found it funny] created to be a millennial ideal. We know that the lead of a blockbuster must be white, but also must be defined by his lack of racism. So what do they do with Baby? His stepfather is an elderly black man, who Baby lives with and cares for! And he has trouble expressing himself emotionally, like a lot of millennials, and he’s also a bit of a genius in another area, as a lot of millennials would like to believe that they are. Baby is not only a genius driver, but records the criminal’s dialogue and remixes it into dance songs made in his home studio, which I just found hilarious, and hilariously pandering to millennials. I mean, making him a straight-up superstar DJ would be a little too on the nose, right?
You’ll also notice that the origin of Baby’s obsession with music is exactly, precisely the same idea as in Guardians of the Galaxy, and there is a scene of Baby having to retrieve a sentimental artifact that is exactly, precisely the same idea from Guardians of the Galaxy. Creative bankruptcy or sign of the mainstream consciousness? Why today, Sir, they are one and the same! And when we see Baby’s new girlfriend presented in the same composition, and dress, in which we saw his deceased mother, implying that he is indeed trying to mate with a clone of his own mother, I guess we’re not supposed to be horrified? Having mainstream heroes who turn into emotional basket cases whenever anyone says anything mean about their mommies indicates clearly that we are no longer in the era of Steve McQueen.
Still: it’s good. You should go see it. It pays to see on the big screen. It keeps finding new ways to stay interesting [the gunfight set to music explodes out of nowhere and is ridiculously exciting]. Yeah, it’s more car chases and gunfights, but get used to it buddy; that’s what movies are now.