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Review: Layer Cake

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Take a story about several denizens of the criminal British underworld, mix in a few spoonfuls of dark humor and a couple of cups of violence, a handful of plot twists to taste, and what do you end up with? Snatch. Well, OK, yes, you do, but if you mix the recipe up a bit and drop in a couple of shots of character development, you isntead get Layer Cake, a movie which clearly follows in the footsteps of Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels but jumps off the path and finds its own way.

The story of Layer Cake follows a cocaine dealer (Daniel Craig) who’s on the verge of retiring, getting out of the drug business–but we all know how those sorts of plans turn out in movies like these. And sure enough, our hero finds himself set up and double-crossed, forced to break the rules he’s created to allow himself to survive and even prospsr in the viscious world of narcotics commerce–all over one million stolen high-octane ecstasy pills. Eventually he ends up caught between two competing crime bosses (Sir Michael Gambon and Kenneth Cranham), each with an agenda far beyond our hero’s grasp, and a ruthless German assassin (menacingly named “Dragan”) brought in to retreive the pills for the cartel that manufactured them in the first place.

(Why do I refer him to simply as “our hero” above? Because we never learn his name. It’s never entirely clear whether the other characters know his name or not, though it seems to me conducting business–especially this kind of business–with someone whose name I didn’t know would be more than a little difficult. But it’s a fun conceit, and leads to a nice twisty bit of black humor at the end of the movie.)

Layer Cake (2004)
Grade: B+
Starring: Daniel Craig Kenneth Cranham Michael Gambon Colm Meaney
Directed By: Matthew Vaughn
Written By: J.J. Connelly
Studio: Paramount

Director Matthew Vaughn, who was one of the producers of Guy Ritchie‘s Snatch and Lock, Stock, clearly took some of Ritchie’s story sensibilites but left aside some of his more garish visual excesses. (Side note: I like some of Ritchie’s garish visual excesses.) Layer Cake deals with character far more than either of those movies, however, and Vaughn wisely lets his excellent cast do much of the heavy lifting. Vaughn, in his first effort as director, works the story’s many twists and turns well and keeps the tension cranked high throughout the movie. And while the visuals might not be quite as stylized as Ritchie’s, Vaughn certainly has his own flair which owes as much to David Fincher as it does Ritchie.

Daniel Craig’s name has surfaced several times as a rumored successor to Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, and watching Layer Cake, you can certainly see why. Craig has an effortless command of the screen, an easy but intense presence; even when relaxed, he seems coiled, as if he could explode into action in an instant. He might not look quite like a typical Bond (especially if he were to be following Brosnan, who seems to have been scuplted from clay scooped directly from Ian Fleming’s brain), but he possesses exactly the right kind of masculinity for Bond, the kind that makes women swoon and men envious. (Or the men swoon and the women envious, depending on your inclinations, of course.)

Written by Allen

September 14th, 2005 at 10:47 pm

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