Crime Thrillers are a common thing, but there are things about "Layer Cake," like its thorny underworld twists and deceptions, that put it into a special class. It belongs to the cluster of British Gangster films started by Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch. Matthew Vaughn, the director Layer Cake, held the producing credit for Guy Ritchie's films, so it's no surprise that the movie borrows aspects of the "feel" of those films.
Even though it bears plenty of stylistic resemblances to its predecessors, it goes about things with a bit more of a reserved and tightly focused approach. The sleekly designed tale of a drug dealer contemplating retirement is offered to us with black humor. The James Bond fame Daniel Craig plays is the superb leading man, who plays as the London cocaine dealer. And as in every crime or film noir movies, the protagonist’s desires almost always run counter to the way the world actually works.
PlotThe movie begins with a voice-over that provides cheeky insight into the situation it takes to stay ahead in Britain's organized-crime drug trade. The voice-over sets the stage for a story full of unexpected sharp edges that make it increasingly unlikely his character will ever reach his stated goal of early retirement. Our antihero is referred to only as X (Daniel Craig), whose middleman Gene (Colm Meaney) makes clear, everyone's too connected to just slip away.
X soon finds himself caught between a drug lord, Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham); a sinister businessman, Eddie Temple (Michael Gambon); and a stone-cold killer (Dragan Micanovic). Any one of those three will kill him, if he doesn't come up with 1,000,000 stolen ecstasy tablets. While our protagonist begins to suspect he's been sent on a suicide mission, he discovers a reason to live when he falls in lust with Tammy (Sienna Miller). Then the movie travels through double-crosses, paybacks and bursts of violence -- all of which come tumbling down on Craig's head.
AnalysisBased on the book by J. J. Connolly, Matthew Vaughn directs it with agile, sharp-witted panache. He deals the material deftly, surprising us with violence, capturing the dealer's deepening sense of doom with dizzying 360 degree pans. Vaughn is confident with his material, and the movie focuses more on a character than his actions. Screenwriter J.J. Connolly and Vaughn bring sufficient freshness to the dialogue, so that pic never feels like a collage of obvious movie allusions.
However, it's very much Daniel Craig's movie. He has the rare face that can look dashing and tormented at the same time. He draws you into his character's head, first with his pointedly wry opening narration, then with his ability to subtly show how his nerves are further frayed each time he's sideswiped by escalating twists that will bury him if he doesn't turn the tables on someone but quick. Daniel Craig's character X, looks like the one of our world and of that crime world at the same time.
Layer Cake also gives us a rich palette of shady characters, all brought to life by a group of talented actors with the likes of such always-dependable standouts as Colm Meaney and Dexter Fletcher. George Harris in a stereotypical black sidekick role, spectacularly overturns expectations with a burst of violence. Michael Gambon finds yet another way to project his bad-guy menace. His presence automatically gives the movie a measure of respect.
Layer Cake doesn't disassociates criminality from cool, but by the end of its bravura display of underworld grace under pressure, only a fool would envy these guys and their cutthroat lives. The movie is nothing we haven’t seen before, but Vaughn invests it with enough style and energy to make it worth the trip.
Layer Cake - IMDb