Baby Driver director pleased his original heist story connected with audiences

Heist thriller Baby Driver's writer-director sought the advice of a convicted bank robber to keep things authentic

The new heist thriller Baby Driver is a hit not because it is similar to the popular Fast & Furious movie franchise, but because it is different from it.

To ensure the authenticity of Baby Driver, English writer- director Edgar Wright met Joe Loya, a convicted bank robber who later published a biography, The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell (2005), and learnt an important fact about getaway vehicles.

Wright, 43, tells The Straits Times at a press event in Kuala Lumpur: "The getaway drivers would be using everyday cars - the idea of using really expensive sports cars or vintage muscle cars is wrong. They would be using cars that are going to be stolen and then dumped."

It sounds like a none-too-subtle dig at the cars-and-crime Fast & Furious movie franchise (2001 to present), and the telling detail makes its way into his film, which is now showing in cinemas here.

Among other things, Baby Driver has also been hailed for its inventive use of music. The action was seamlessly choreographed to it and there were 35 songs written into the script.

While a lot of fast-car action movies feature "kind of masculine, sort of aggressive dance music", the soundtrack for Baby Driver revs up the rock, punk and retro quotient, including The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's Bellbottoms and The Damned's Neat Neat Neat.


Wright says: "We actually shot the scenes to the music, we didn't just put the music on afterwards. We actually choreographed entire sequences to the music.

"It definitely made it a unique creative challenge, but the music is the heartbeat that's driving the movie and having the music on hand was incredibly helpful."

The idea for the film was seeded when he heard Bellbottoms by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in 1995 and started "dreaming of the car chase" - it is the opening song of the film.

And the title of the movie comes from the song Baby Driver by Simon & Garfunkel, which is heard at the end.

The inclusion of 1970s Motown ballad Easy by The Commodores was inspired by American actor- musician Ansel Elgort, who plays the titular character, a gifted driver with a love of music who wants to walk away from a life of crime.

Elgort, 23, says: "It was one of my favourite songs growing up. It made its way into the script because Edgar knew how much it meant to me.

"He knew the audience would be able to tell that it is meaningful to Baby the way it's meaningful to me."

The movie has a 95 per cent approval rating on reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and has so far cruised to earnings of US$97.5 million (S$133.4 million) worldwide on a relatively modest budget of US$34 million.

Wright is best known for a trio of films that are lubricated with laughs and lots of alcohol.

Collectively, Shaun Of The Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World's End (2013) are known as the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy.

They are cherished for having a distinctly British identity, which is why the American-made and set Baby Driver has prompted some hand-wringing in the British press.

A headline in The Guardian bemoaned: Baby Driver: Have We Lost Edgar Wright To Hollywood?

His answer: "Not quite."

He points out that all his movies have either been shot or edited in London, sometimes both. Baby Driver has a British producer, British crew and was edited and mixed in London.

But he also adds that all his movies, even the British ones, have been financed by American studios.

While Wright is comfortable navigating the industry on both sides of the Atlantic, he says that there is something of a "language barrier".

"In Britain, the front of the car is the bonnet and the back is the boot. In America, it's the hood and the trunk. That was something I really had to learn."

There were about 150 cars used and Wright quips: "I don't know how many of them were still roadworthy at the end of it though."

Audiences, he adds, might not know about the technicalities of a green-screen or in-camera shot but they can tell the difference when they watch it: "You can feel it when it's shot for real. There's some old-school kind of thrills in the movie that it just becomes a little more exciting than your usual CGI fest.

"There are so many movies using effects and they come out so frequently, there's no 'wow' factor any more in terms of the advancement of special effects."

Given the buzz that Baby Driver has been generating, both at the box office and among critics, it seems that a possible progression for him would be to helm a big-budget superhero movie next.

But he says: "Superhero movies are not the be-all and end-all of cinema."

Besides, he has already directed one comic-book movie, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World (2010), and co-wrote three, Scott Pilgrim, The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn (2011) and Ant-Man (2015).

"I feel like I've done my bit," he says with a laugh.

In a summer chock-a-block with franchises and superhero titles, Baby Driver steers its own path with an original story and a sparkle in its execution.

Wright says: "I've got nothing against franchise movies, but they dominate the market. So when an original movie breaks through, it's really important for the industry. I'm very proud of the movie and I'm so happy it's connecting with audiences in a big way."

Thanks to the freshness of the script, Wright was also able to get several big-name stars on board.

Oscar winner Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects, 1995) plays Doc, the brains behind the crimes.

Another Oscar winner, Jamie Foxx (Ray, 2004), plays the unhinged Bats.

Emmy winner Jon Hamm (Mad Men, 2007 to 2015) plays Buddy, yet another violent criminal.

Wright wrote the part of Buddy for Hamm as he knew the actor. As for the others, he says: "People just really responded to the script and the premise of it and the idea with the music.

"For people like Jamie and Kevin who have been in a lot of films, they're sort of looking for something that's a little different."

• Baby Driver is showing in cinemas. weekend

• See movie review

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2017, with the headline 'Crime does pay'. Print Edition | Subscribe