In all of Wright’s extensive lists of the movies that either influenced Baby Driver or that he recommends by way of his new feature, there are five core titles that are most notable. I’ve already mentioned The Driver, The Blues Brothers, and Reservoir Dogs. Then there’s Point Break, which is so linked to Wright’s Hot Fuzz that I’d keep it as a movie to watch after that. Finally there’s Michael Mann’s Heat, a perfect heist movie that many would argue is the best heist movie ever, improving on all its own precursors and never topped by those it’s influenced.
Heat stars Robert De Niro as the head of a crew, which includes True Romance‘s Kilmer and Tom Sizemore, and Al Pacino as the police lieutenant who wants to take him down. Their cat and mouse game and shared scenes have become iconic in their own right, beyond the initial significance of seeing two legends sharing the screen for the first time (despite both being in The Godfather Part II). And its armored car robbery and later assault rifle shootout in the streets after a heist gone wrong are so memorably well-crafted that you can’t watch similar sequences in another movie, Baby Driver included, and not think about them.
“Heat is obviously the grandaddy of heist movies,” Wright tells Cinema Blend, “taking a small TV movie that [Mann] reshot and making it into a big sort of LA opera, basically.” So, he saw music in this movie, even though its big action scenes are really just set to the sounds of gunfire and screams and screeching tires. And he added actual songs to his versions, with the armored car robbery and the heist gone wrong aftermath set to high energy songs by the Damned and Focus, respectively. That TV movie, by the way, if you want to go further to the source, is called L.A. Takedown.
Shaun of the Dead (2005)
It might seem obvious or unnecessary to recommend Wright’s breakout feature, but considering Baby Driver is set to be the filmmaker’s biggest hit — grossing more in its first five days than any of his previous movies’ total domestic box office in their entire theatrical runs. Many moviegoers could be seeing their first Wright, and those people now need to go back to the start — well, maybe not as far back as his feature debut, A Fistful of Fingers, unless for curiosity, but to where his big screen career really took off.
There are surely elements of all of Wright’s previous four features visible in his latest, including the aforementioned Point Break-influenced action of Hot Fuzz, but I mostly see Baby Driver connecting back to this zom-rom-com where co-writer Simon Pegg stars as a man needing to grow up and win back his girlfriend (Kate Ashfield) whilst the zombie apocalypse escalates around them. The opening tracking shot in Baby Driver set to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is very reminiscent of Pegg’s walk through his neighborhood at the beginning of Shaun — and both repeat later with variation.
Also, Baby (Ansel Elgort) similarly has to escape his own escalating danger with his true love (Lily James). I guess Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World also has that, too. Unlike Shaun or Scott, the human obstacles in Baby’s way of happiness aren’t dealt with in as schematically steeped manner as the latter’s video game-inspired adversaries or the former’s lineage of closer-and-closer personal relationships. But what it does share with Shaun over Scott is the fact that the obstacles are related to something of his life he must shed away in order to achieve his romantic happy ending. In Baby Driver it’s just the people in his criminal business, while in Shaun it’s his girlfriend’s best friend and former suitor, then his step-father, his mother, and his own best friend. Oh, and hordes of the undead.
Not to be confused with the movie starring Tim Robbins with the same title and release year, the Australian film Noise is my obscure pick of the week. I had thought about devoting the slot to a documentary on tinnitus, because people with the condition in real-life, while excited about the awareness Baby Driver will bring, are concerned with its depiction. Nobody with tinnitus could actually stand loud music with earbuds, apparently. There are many short docs and videos they’d recommend for a better understanding of tinnitus.
There’s not a lot in common between Baby Driver and Noise, which is written and directed by Matthew Saville, who went on to helm the Joel Edgerton-scripted-and-starred Felony. But the main characters of both suffer from tinnitus, with Noise‘s Brendan Cowell playing a police constable new to his increasingly painful and disorienting ailment. During the film’s climax, he is able to focus better on something when a certain sound cancels out the one in his ears, and that seems relative to Baby’s reason for always listening to music.
They’re also both crime films, though not in any way that aligns them. Noise is centered around a subway massacre, a woman who survived it, another murder, and the man whose fiancee was the one killed. The dramatic thriller is also interested in and honors different disabilities and defects, featuring a police detective with a cleft palate and a young autistic man (treated more as someone simply described as mentally challenged). It’s a little slow and might be unsatisfying for anyone looking for a straightforward mystery conclusion, but it’s a captivating atmospheric character-driven production with very strong performances.
Wright must have been at least a little frustrated with this movie from Nicolas Winding Refn. After all, he had been wanting to make his own feature inspired by The Driver about a master of the getaway for decades. I haven’t seen him acknowledge the connection anywhere except when noting that Hill’s movie influenced Refn and other directors besides himself. Wright surely knew he’d be seen as partly copying Drive with Baby Driver. As soon as he announced the project and through to its recent reviews, comparisons have been made between them.
The thing is, there’s not really a lot to align them aside from the basic premise of each being about cool guys hired to drive getaway cars for various robbery crews. Refn and Wright are both very stylish filmmakers yet haven’t much similarity in their visual or tonal aesthetic choices. The main characters and performances of Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, and Albert Brooks are also nothing like their Baby Driver counterparts in Elgort, James, and Kevin Spacey. Plus: Wright’s movie has a lot more action to appease those people who expected more from Drive (at least one of them was so disappointed she took legal action).
Neither is the better movie, and that’s partly because they’re just too different to truly weigh against each other. Interestingly enough, despite Baby Driver being so soundtrack-focused and tied to an idea that Wright also used in an actual music video (“Blue Song” by Mint Royale), Drive is the one I feel more is like a long form music video, mostly for the song “A Real Hero” by College (featuring Electric Youth). Drive is also more serious, less heartfelt, and it ditches its Mad Men star much quicker.
The Honorable Mentions
The Blues Brothers, Bottle Rocket, Bullitt, Charley Varrick, Danger: Diabolik, Deadfall, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, Dog Day Afternoon, Freebie and the Bean, The French Connection, Gambit, The Getaway (1972), Gun Crazy, The Hot Rock, The Italian Job (1969), The Ladykillers (1955), Ocean’s Eleven, Out of Sight, Point Break, Reservoir Dogs, Straight Time, Sugarland Express, Thief, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, To Live and Die in LA, Vanishing Point, and Victoria.