Review of “Baby Driver”

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a quiet young man who listens to music constantly through his iPod to drown out the tinnitus that has plagued him since he was in a car accident as a child. That accident also left him an orphan as both is parents died in the crash. Baby has been the foster son of Joseph (CJ Jones) for many years but Joseph, who is deaf, is confined to a wheelchair and now Baby takes care of him. Baby has a job as a driver but it’s not like being a chauffeur: Baby is the wheel man for a rotating group of bank robbers led by Doc (Kevin Spacey). Baby stole a car of Doc’s several years prior that was filled with expensive “merchandise.” Baby dumped the car after his joy ride but Doc, who had watched the whole thing, held him responsible for the value of the merchandise lost in the theft. Baby has been the getaway driver for all the jobs Doc has masterminded since they met. Baby gets an equal share of the take but Doc keeps most of it giving Baby a tiny fraction to live on. Doc never uses the same crew twice on a job and has recently brought in Bats (Jamie Foxx) for what may be their biggest job yet. Bats is unstable and violent, willing to kill at the drop of a hat, and he rubs the rest of the crews the wrong way. Baby has recently met Deborah (Lily James), a waitress at the diner he frequents and he is falling in love. They share a love of music and a desire to leave their lives behind for the open road. Baby thought his days of driving for Doc were over but he gets pulled back in (thanks to threats on the lives of everyone he loves) for one more job. Now Baby is having more and more trouble keeping his professional life from jeopardizing the lives of those he loves.

“Baby Driver” is a rare original idea in a summer of reboots, sequels and massive franchise films and it’s from a director that nearly helmed “Ant-Man.” Edgar Wright, the creative mind behind the “Cornetto Trilogy” of “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz” and “The World’s End” along with the underappreciated “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” has given audiences a refreshing treat in a summer of warmed-over ideas and CGI-heavy extravaganzas. If only more studios and filmmakers would be willing to take a chance on small stories of fairly regular people trapped in extraordinary circumstances there might be more tickets sold and more money in their pockets. Of course, not all filmmakers have a mind as creative at Edgar Wright but we are lucky he found a studio willing to take a chance on his vision.

Ansel Elgort is a vision to behold playing Baby. The character is so laid back he’s practically lying down: but Baby is far more in tune with what’s going on around him than many believe and he truly comes alive behind the wheel. Elgort finds the perfect balance of calm and energy for Baby. He never raises much above a low boil even when he has a gun shoved in his face. Baby can calculate what needs to be done to avoid a police roadblock and an oncoming car without breaking a sweat or losing an earbud. It’s a performance many actors could not have believably pulled off but Elgort does it with ease. He’s brilliant in the role.

While also brilliant, Jamie Foxx is scary as the unstable Bats. His intense stare and hair-trigger temper make Bats a dangerous man to be around and Foxx is able to bring a level of menace and unpredictability to the role that few could. Watching the film I was never quite sure which way Bats would go in any situation and that made the scenes he’s in incredibly powerful to watch. It would not surprise me to see Foxx nominated for a supporting actor award next year.

While the trailers have emphasized the car stunts in the movie, aside from the opening chase there aren’t really that many in the film; but that chase has a level of beauty and precision other films will feel the need to match. It has the kind of stunts that the “Fast and the Furious” films wish they could do but now must have cars flying over mountains and blasting through buildings. There are a couple more car chases in “Baby Driver” but they are more of the ram and slam variety where the opening stunt series is like watching a surgeon remove a tumor from a very delicate part of the brain. It is an amazing opening sequence.

“Baby Driver” is a movie where the soundtrack is a character unto itself. Comprised of 30 songs ranging in style from jazz to hip-hop, the music is what Baby is listening to as he drives. It is a window into his mind and personality. It conveys the emotion of the scene and the people in it. It takes over for exposition where none is needed. The movie is edited to, and the characters move in time with, the music that is constantly playing through Baby’s earbuds or the speakers in his car. I’m not sure they give awards for that kind of thing but if they do, “Baby Driver” is a shoe-in to take home the trophy.

“Baby Driver” is rated R for violence and language throughout. There are numerous shootings, some bloodier than others. We see a character hit by a car and thrown into the air then run over again. A character is shown impaled on metal rods after a car crash. There are other acts of violence in the film as well. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

Edgar Wright has been working to get “Baby Driver” made for over 20 years. His dismissal from the director’s chair for Marvel’s “Ant-Man” may have been a blessing in disguise as it gave Wright the incentive to make a movie the way he wanted to make it and the result is a music and thrill-filled film that should be viewed twice just to catch all the little touches the director has thrown in to add an extra dash of flavor to an already tasty bit of filmmaking.

“Baby Driver” gets five stars.

This week the much anticipated “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is the only film in wide release and that’s what I’ll see and review:

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “The Accountant”

Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is a CPA working out of a small strip mall office near Chicago, Illinois. Born autistic with an aversion to bright lights, loud sounds and scratchy fabrics, his father, an Army intelligence officer, decides his son must be trained to deal with what the real world is like. He exposes his autistic son to the things that make him uncomfortable in an effort to build up a kind of psychological callous. He has the boy and his younger brother, who is not autistic, take brutal martial arts training as well as becoming excellent marksmen. After getting in a scrape with the law, Christian does time in federal prison where he meets Francis Silverberg (Jeffrey Tambor) who was the bookkeeper for a major crime family. Francis takes a liking to Christian and, realizing his unique mental challenges and gifts, teaches him about how to launder dirty money. Christian becomes the forensic bookkeeper for drug cartels, crime syndicates and terrorist groups, able to track down where any missing money has gone. Frequently seen in surveillance photographs but in ways that makes him difficult to identify, Christian comes to the attention of the head of the Treasury Department’s Crime Enforcement Division Ray King (J.K. Simmons). He is quickly approaching retirement and wants to identify the underworld’s accountant. He puts analyst Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) on the job threatening to expose she lied on her federal application about juvenile felony convictions to give her incentive to work quickly. Meanwhile, Christian is asked to check out the books at Living Robotics, a high-tech company that specializes in prosthetics for amputees, consumer electronics and military items. It is owned by Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow) and his sister Rita (Jean Smart). Staff accountant Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) has found an irregularity in the books but can’t quite figure out what is wrong. Christian is brought in and, after spending all night going through 15 years of accounts, deposits and invoices, discovers $61-million is missing. That night, the Chief Financial Officer of Living Robotics, Ed Chilton (Andy Umberger), is visited at his home by a mysterious man (Jon Bernthal) who tells Ed to overdose on the insulin he takes for his diabetes or his wife will be violated and murdered in front of him. The next day, Christian arrives at Living Robotics, is told that Chilton is dead and finds all the files he was working on have been taken away. Despite his pleas to finish his job Lamar Blackburn pays him and tells him it is over. To relax, Christian goes target shooting at the farm of one of his regular clients. Several men break in and order the couple to call Christian into the house with the intent of killing him. Christian turns to the tables and takes out all the attackers and questions the last one living about who sent him. The man shows Christian a photo of Dana and says he was ordered to kill them both. Christian heads to pick up Dana and the pair go on the run from whoever is trying to clean up hornet’s nest they discovered at Living Robotics.

“The Accountant” is a version of the superhero myth where the antagonist is born with the power of easily comprehending incredibly difficult math. It doesn’t sound like much of a super power but in the hands of Affleck’s Christian Wolff it becomes the force that leads to a great number of deaths. Adding to his abilities, the character has been studying self-defense since he was young so he is proficient at both martial arts and marksmanship. Both are skills that the autism others see as a defect actually turns out to be a benefit as it gives him a singular focus and a drive to complete a task successfully. There is no “quit” in Christian Wolff as his brain will not allow it. The movie has no quit in it either but sadly the story has been shortchanged by a desire to make it cute and creating some shortcuts that turns the very end of the movie into something rather frustrating.

Ben Affleck is fantastic as Christian Wolff. He plays the hero as a man that does what he does not for fame or for attention but simply because they must be done. He also has a strong sense of morals and loyalty to those that are his friends. Playing a man with autism, Affleck is almost painfully awkward with interpersonal communication. Usually avoiding eye contact, largely devoid of humor and unable to read subtext, Wolff is constantly deemed rude by those that do not know him. His blunt honesty is the only way he knows how to behave. Subtlety is lost on him and you just have to live with it.

It is a refreshing change from most superheroes (including Affleck’s own take on Batman). Even characters like Tony Stark, portrayed as a man that doesn’t care what anyone thinks, is often forced to change course and do what is socially acceptable. Wolff is a singular creation that lives by a unique set of rules that make sense only to him. His training, started by his father as a child and continued by Wolff into adulthood, is a rigid routine that appears nonsensical to the average person but serves a purpose in desensitizing him to the cacophony of sights, sounds and feelings of the everyday world. I’m not sure how the autistic community feels about the way they are portrayed in the film; but the fact we have a hero with autism in a movie that grossed nearly $25-million in its opening weekend can’t be seen as anything but positive.

To be honest, I’m not exactly sure why Anna Kendrick is in the movie. I suppose her character is meant to be a humanizing compared to Affleck’s but she just seemed to be there to act as comic relief then to be what needed saving. Her character mostly disappears after the first half of the film aside from a brief scene at the end. Perhaps her character had a bigger role in the story but she was cut out in the final edit. She does manage to hold her own when some bad guys bust into her apartment in what must be the dreariest building in Chicago; but her talent largely is wasted in an underwritten and underused part.

As for the ending, I won’t give anything away but there are two bits of information that come out in the last 10 minutes of the film that really bring the movie down a notch. Perhaps one is meant to again humanize the somewhat robotic Christian while the other is supposed to be uplifting and force us to question our assumptions about people with disabilities. Both feel like cheap shortcuts taken to keep from having to figure out more rational explanations and avoid paying for more actors. Both also made me put my head in my hands and ask “why?” Maybe this is too strong a reaction to something that happens in a Hollywood action/thriller but it made what I’d watched and enjoyed before these two reveals seem somehow cheapened.

“The Accountant” is rated R for strong violence and language throughout. There are a number of bloody shootings as well as showing numerous dead bodies. Many of the shooting are head shots that cause a great deal of splatter on the walls. There are a couple of brutal hand-to-hand fights as well. Foul language is scattered.

In a nutshell, I liked “The Accountant” but thought it could have been much better with a little bit more work on the story. This film is clearly an effort to launch a franchise following Christian Wolff, or whatever he decides to call himself next, around the country (or world) as he gets caught up in the middle of various plots and schemes and uses his particular set of skills to right the wrongs of others. He’s not a bad character on which to base a franchise and I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more stories about the autistic bookkeeper. I just hope whoever writes the next one manages to be a bit more creative and realistic at the same time in finishing up the story.

“The Accountant” gets four (almost five) guitars.

Four new films hit screens this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Boo! A Madea Halloween—

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back—

Keeping Up with the Joneses—

Ouija: Origin of Evil—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.