Audiences may look to the white-knuckle action and musical interludes in Edgar Wright’s newest opus Baby Driver as its biggest selling point, but that would be selling the movie short: The real unsung hero of the movie is the backdrop of the city of Atlanta. Beyond just being a cheaper alternative to film at, the city has become the go-to location for some of the biggest blockbuster films in the past decade—like Ant Man, Captain America: Civil War, and the Fast & The Furious sequels. However, these movies have only shot Atlanta in place of other, more costly cities. Baby Driver is one of the rare exceptions, with Wright choosing to shoot his vision of over twenty years in the making as a love letter to high-octane car films, but also a love letter to Atlanta, Georgia.
Following the story of the talented yet eccentric heist driver Baby (Ansel Elgort), the movie is a true to form heist movie that takes inspiration from movies like Bullitt and Vanishing Point. Through the sounds of Baby’s own personal soundtrack, he is able to do the impossible but he’s in over his head when he’s roped into one last dangerous bounty by his father figure, Doc (played by Kevin Spacey). The movie then focuses on a volatile mix of murder, deception, and love, while keeping you on the edge of your seat the whole time. Baby is fueled by its soundtrack, which weaves in and out of the narrative as if it were a cast member—but the real secret weapon in the movie is the setting.
As wonderful as the Baby Driver is (and it’s very, very, wonderful), writer and director Edgar Wright had other plans for the location. “[The movie] was originally written for Los Angeles, but it was too costly—so we went on a tour of the “tax-break” cities,” he said. “Once Atlanta looked like the prime contender, I spent about a week there to figure out how I was going to change it.” The time that Wright spent there convinced him to not only set the movie in the city—but also write the movie based on the landmarks and the culture there. “I loved how [Atlanta] was represented...there’s a real edge to it that [Wright] captured with the artwork and graffiti,” explained Lily James, who plays Baby’s love interest Deborah. And with the movie primarily taking place in the diverse downtown area of the city, this attention to detail is key to why the movie works so well in that setting. We’ve seen other cities like New Orleans and Los Angeles displayed in their splendor, but revealing a side of Atlanta that most audiences haven’t seen makes Baby Driver a fresh blockbuster movie in a sea of copycats.
Baby Driver features cameos from prolific artists from the city like Big Boi and Killer Mike, local foods and cafes like Godfather’s Pizza and Octane Coffee, as well as nods to the landmarks that surround the area. Wright was adamant about getting these small details right, as well as reminding people about the “rich history” of Atlanta’s music and car culture. “I found that the movie worked better in Atlanta than [in Los Angeles],” he said. “It’s a travel hub, so it makes sense that it would be the place where criminals would meet up and split again.” It may not seem like much on the outside looking in, but people familiar with Atlanta will no doubt be cheering at the high-speed chases AND the fact that the city is finally getting its respect as a action movie backdrop when it isn’t shot as something that it isn’t.
Atlanta is its own character in Baby Driver, but the cast of the movie were also enamored with the city as well. The film boasts big-time performances from Elgort and James, but the villains of the movie—Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and Eiza Gonzalez, fell in love with their surroundings during filming in more ways than one. “It was really nice to shoot Atlanta for Atlanta,” explained Jon Hamm, who plays the sleazy bank robber named Buddy. “Most movies shoot Atlanta for New York or LA, and they try to find an angle that makes it not look like the city, but [we appreciated] it for being [true to the city].”
Gonzalez, who plays Buddy’s murderous moll Darling, echoed these sentiments on getting Atlanta right: “I was really excited when the movie went from LA to Atlanta, because [the city is] a character. I love that [Wright] is good at bringing out qualities that people would try to sweep under the rug, and bringing it to the forefront.” That’s not to say that the cast didn’t get into any of Atlanta’s most popular extracurricular activities, however. When asked about their favorite activities in Atlanta, it was pretty clear that the common response would be the wide selection of legendary strip clubs available within the city. And even though they don’t play a role in the movie (maybe next time, Edgar?), Jamie Foxx, who steals the show as ruthless criminal Bats, was quick to name his favorites: “I’m a Magic City guy [laughs]. I swore I would never go, but if you go to Atlanta you have to go to Magic City. I took QT [Quentin Tarantino] there once.”
In staying true to the essence of Atlanta, Edgar Wright has succeed in making a movie that looks vintage while playing in a brand new sandbox for modern action movies: “I wanted Atlanta to play itself in a car chase film. I can’t remember the last car chase film that [took place] in Atlanta,” he said. Shining a light on this underappreciated city as a backdrop only helped the experience of Baby Driver, and it’ll likely be the same for people who see it as well. Beyond just being a no-frills and stylish movie that stays away from the over-the-top super heroics of the Fast series, it has a delicate love story between the titular character and James’ Deborah at its core. And while the movie works on its own as a harrowing tale of crime and betrayal, having Atlanta as an extra layer of personality is the bow on this near-perfect action movie gift.