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After being cast as Bond, Daniel Craig's back catalogue is now much
sought after. Although Craig came to most of the UK's attention with a
stand out performance in Our Friends in the North, it's Layer Cake that
showcases why he got the Bond audition. Perhaps now, this strong
contender for the best thriller of the year may find the audience it
deserves. Mis-sold as a more art house friendly addition to the Guy
Ritchie school of crime films, Layer Cake is a unique and remarkable
The plot is deceivingly simple and would wrongly be placed in the gangster-wanting-to-retire-peacefully cinema staple seen frequently in Al Pacino movies. It is a much greater accomplishment that the audacious visual style, superb script and excellent performances make easy comparisons to this film pretty difficult. If anything it is closer to Schrader's 'American Gigalo' where the morally questionable hero is engulfed in a situation going on around him. The predominantly male cast is faultless with everyone from Dexter Fletcher to Michael Gambon putting in superb turns to give the characters justice. Far more human than the cartoon stereotypes we've come to expect after so very many Brit gangster flicks. Craig has never looked in better shape for taking on Hollywood.
Hats off then to Matthew Vaugn for filming Britain as it can look. Grimy in places but every bit astonishing in locations as our Stateside cousins. We've grown too used to seeing rain pouring and hackneyed clichés that have represented this country on celluloid. It's not foppish. It's not Bend It Like Beckham. So there really is no excuse left not to see it (aside from the awful trailer). Layer Cake deserves a wide audience and there's more than enough of everything for everyone to enjoy. At times hilarious, astonishingly frank and incredibly concise the whole film is a pure joy and clearly made for people that love film. Makes you wonder why they can't all be as classy as this.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Seven years ago, I sat in a movie theatre with little to no
expectations for the viewing of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, a
British crime/comedy/drama from producer Michael Vaughn. I had never
heard of the director (the future Mr. Madonna, Guy Ritchie) and there
wasn't a single cast member that I could say I had seen before.
A few years later, Vaughn was back producing another Guy Ritchie film that put American actors Brad Pitt, Benicio Del Toro and Dennis Farnia amongst all the chaos in the British underground in Snatch.
Despite the low fanfare (they have since become cult hits), both movies were refreshingly fun flicks that ended up on my top ten lists in their respective years of release.
Now, five years since Snatch made a splash on North American soil, producer Michael Vaughn is back, this time behind the lens, for the new crime thriller, Layer Cake.
Layer Cake follows a cocaine dealer without a name played by Daniel Craig who is working towards his retirement from the underground biz. He doesn't see himself as a bad man. In fact, his voice over reveals that he is not a gangster. He's a business man. However, if Carlito's Way taught us anything it is that escape from a lifetime in the seedy crime world is not easy to dissolve oneself of.
And things start to go amok immediately when crime boss Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham) forcefully delegates the task of finding the lost daughter of an old powerful friend to our protagonist. Reluctantly, but without option, the job is accepted and this begins the wicked spiral deeper into the drug and criminal underworld than he had ever hoped to venture.
Soon, there will be a drug trade gone bad, an introduction to a character named Dragon who lops off the heads of his victims, friends who will both have a drink with you and kick the living life out of your body in the same afternoon and enough crosses, double crosses and screw-you's to keep you riveted to the screen.
Much like Lock, Stock and Snatch, there are enough characters in Layer Cake to keep your head spinning. Vaughn doesn't try and spell things out for the audience and throws the kitchen sink at our small brains leaving it up the viewer to try and keep pace. Probably requiring a repeat viewing (if for no other reason that to try and understand what is being said under the cover of some very strong English accents), Layer Cake veers from the traditional cookie cutter type drug/crime caper by delivering a complex mix of violence and drama that is anything but packaged with a bow on top.
By the time we are introduced to yet another group of players, headed brilliantly by the always-reliable Michael Gambon, you may need a second to collect your senses and figure out which end is up. It was like watching Memento except with more lively characters and a story that's actually worth your involvement.
I was surprised to learn that this was Michael Vaughn's directorial debut. As a novice he was able to weave a complex web of multiple stories like a seasoned veteran in what I can only suspect to be a more realistic depiction of hit men and drug lords than anything Bad Boys waved in our faces a few years back.
Lacking the dark humor of Lock, Stock and Snatch, Layer Cake is more like Goodfellas and to some extent Reservoir Dogs than its two closest relatives (an ass kicking scene to Duran Duran's Ordinary World was reminiscent of Dogs' Stuck in the Middle With You). It's a film composed with characters that are so unique and interesting, yet violent and criminal that you don't know who to root for. Case in point, Gene played by Star Trek veteran Colm Meany. As Jimmy Price's right hand man, Gene is a gangster that wouldn't hesitate to put a bullet in your brain if so ordered, but portrayed as a human being who is just doing what he is told to survive in a world to which he is too accustomed. He is maybe the most charismatic bad guy since Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction.
Rumor in selected Trades is that Daniel Craig is the frontrunner for the Bond franchise if Pierce Brosnan decides to jump ship, and his performance in Layer Cake proves that he is up to the task. His steely blue eyes and Steve McQueen type looks can ensure that we haven't seen the last of him, and if we are lucky, in his next film his character will get a name.
Layer Cake is definitely not for all types. If you have problems following CSI, then this movie is not for you. But for those of you who do stick around through the reveals and character developments, I can assure you that the payoff is worth the investment. Layer Cake will be one of those films that in a few years, men will be talking about around the work water-cooler, using words like 'ultra-cool' and maybe even 'classic'.
The trailers to Layer Cake left me with mixed feelings. Usually when a
trailer needs to draw reference to 'one's we made earlier' (in this
case Lock, Stock, and Snatch) when the writer or director of said films
has nothing to do with the project, the end result is a poor copycat.
After watching the film, I am more than impressed!
Layer Cake introduces us (once more) to the world of the cockney gangsters, and the dealing of drugs. The medication of choice this time is Ecstacy, and the set up involves an up-and-coming name in the dealing trade being thrown a job by one of the big names. Sent to find a missing girl, and also buy and sell on a large shipment, it all seems like easy work. However, as he soon finds, things are not always as they seem, and before long his life is at risk when the deal begins to go sour.
For the first 20 minutes of the film I couldn't decide whether it was going to be a Lock, Stock, or Honest (the dreadful All Saints film). The film uses the obligatory 'catchy' tunes from the past 2 decades, and uses the same type of framing of scenes as the genre. For the first 20 minutes, whilst we were introduced rapidly to the characters in the tale, it was hard to discern where the plot was going, and even harder to care much about the players. By the half way point I was engrossed! The plot twists and turns at various points throughout, and you do begin to care about the lead character and the associates around him.
The film oozes cockney cool, and although not quite on par with the best of the genre, it is still a worthy, and very engrossing, offering from director Matthew Vaughn. Stylishly shot, with a great soundtrack, this is one of those films that blokes will walk out of very pleased, but their partners may not feel the same way. Whilst not really violent or sexist in nature, this is a lads film through and through, and it is one cake that I want another slice of.
I went into Layer Cake with no expectations. Being honest, I found the
trailer tedious the second time I saw it. I didn't like the whole cake
idea, it was okay to a certain extent I guess. I did however enjoy Lock
Stock and Snatch. Layer Cake is a different kind of animal.
Whilst Lock Stock and Snatch were more comedy based, Layer Cake has this more serious approach, no names flashing on the screen, identifying any of the characters, so you have to pay extra special attention!
There are several flashback/sub plots which don't particularly help as they can confuse you if you're not paying attention. There were many characters introduced to you in a short space of time and then suddenly going off at a tangent involving some of the 'slightly minor lead' characters.
You can see the influences of other directors in Matthew Vaughn's end product. The direction style is good and the montage is solid.
Daniel Craig gives a good solid performance. His narrative does help place him well in the movie. His narrative in the beginning is definitely something that draws you in. The rest of the performances are pretty good. Tamer Hassan has a minor role. After seeing the major role he had in The Football Factory, he can act, he should have possibly had a larger character. His character does not shine across as that 'demented' as that in The Football Factory. Sienna Miller was underused also, which was a shame.
Although there are some problems with the story, Matthew Vaughn has made a respectable movie. This being his debut, he has nothing to be ashamed of. As long as he works on the clarity of the plot more, he will have no problems securing full audiences. Layer Cake gives a good reputation to British films instead of the some rubbish released over the last few years.
I enjoyed the ending, it was good, I'm not going to say anything about it!
My rating 7/10
After an art house release everywhere else in the civilized world, LAYER CAKE (LC) unexpectedly premiered in our area, the Lehigh Valley, at the $4 theater in Easton (this joint started as a second-run theater, but it's been getting some acclaimed imports and indies lately, too. Somebody there is a good programmer!). This British import, adapted by J.J. Connolly from his novel, is a taut crime drama that moves with the sleek menace of a tiger. Imagine THE BIG SLEEP with an ever-so-slightly more coherent plot and, as its protagonist, a prosperous, wily drug dealer looking to retire after one last score instead of tough but noble private eye Philip Marlowe. Our hero's problem is that he's a careful, calculating businessman in a dicey business where he's surrounded by loose cannons who shoot, stab, or punch first and ask questions later. Director Matthew Vaughn has been best known as Guy Ritchie's producer, but in his directorial debut Vaughn is like Martin Scorsese to Ritchie's Barry Sonnenfeld (that's meant as a compliment to all concerned, I assure you). It helps that Vaughn gets excellent performances from Daniel Craig as our cool but in-over-his-head unnamed antihero (usually films and books that refuse to name their main character strike me as trying too hard to be clever, but it works here), Michael Gambon nearly stealing the show as a cultured but ruthless narcotics kingpin, Colm Meaney and THE INTERPRETER's George Harris as our protagonist's partners in crime, and many folks from Guy Ritchie's films. Sienna Miller doesn't get to do much beyond being eye candy, but she's tasty eye candy indeed. I'm as heterosexual a gal as they come, but after seeing lithe, leggy Miller strip down to black lingerie and garters, I couldn't help thinking, "That Jude Law is one lucky guy!" :-) One of the things I liked about LC is that the protagonist, while thoughtful and competent, is never quite as clever as he thinks he is; somehow everybody manages to be one step ahead of him, if only because they're all so damned unpredictable. Though I've only seen Daniel Craig in three of his many films (the other two were THE ROAD TO PERDITION and THE JACKET), he's clearly one of those actors who never looks or sounds the same from role to role, so if he does indeed end up being Pierce Brosnan's successor as James Bond as rumored, it'll be interesting to see how he fares playing the same character in more than one film! :-) In any case, Craig certainly lives up to the "new Steve McQueen" rep that LC has garnered him. I look forward to seeing what he'll do next!
I was really looking forward to seeing Matthew Vaughn's turn at
directing a film and what better genre to see him make his debut in
than the British gangster genre especially after his roles in the
fabulous 'Lock,Stock...' and 'Snatch' even though they were Guy
Fans of those two movies may notice a few references in this one, most notably two of the actors used and some of the dialogue sounded fairly similar to a few lines out of 'Lock, Stock' but they didn't detract from the films quality. For a while, I thought I was watching 'Snatch' from a few years ago as the pace and the amount of characters that were piling up in the film was at times overwhelming. This may be the downside to many people's opinion of the film but I could cope. I realized the main characters, 'got to know them', and focused very much on them. Characters like 'The Duke' and 'Morty'; that way, I wasn't totally confused at first sight.
The acting was good and there are moments which creep along silently that will have you on the edge of your seat. This included the factory in Amsterdam being robbed by 'The Duke' and his cronies as well as the scene during which our main character: 'XXXX' is pinned down in a park by a psychopathic Eastern European hit-man whilst on the phone to him.
The acting is faultless and flows all the way through. When there are scenes which perhaps do go on longer than you'd like them to, the acting and dialogue just manage to keep them going to the end. The humour element is also there as I expected it would be. Most of the time they're 'chuckle to yourself' moments but there are two or three moments where you'll really find something funny and want to laugh out loud.
Overall, it was great fun and a damn good film. I think it can just about stand it's self up there with Ritchie's two acts of brilliance as a result.
I think you can tell; I enjoyed my piece.........
"Layer Cake" the stylish neo noir film by Matthew Vaughn, making his
directorial debut, shows a man with enormous potential to do much
better in future projects. The film, based on J.J. Connelly's novel, is
a study about the drug business by some ruthless people that are making
a lot of money with their illegal commerce.
Point in case, the nameless hero of the story who figures he has played the game right and now is about to make an exit from the business. Little does he know that his friend Jimmy Price has other ideas for him to execute, no doubt driven by a desire to get him in trouble, as proves to be the case.
"Layer Cake" screams for a second viewing. In fact, it is probably a requirement because it will make things clearer to the viewer who might get lost in this story with so many twists and turns.
Daniel Craig is the best thing going in the movie. In fact, he kept reminding us of a young Steve McQueen because of his cool demeanor and how he seems to move effortlessly throughout the film. Kenneth Cranham, as Jimmy Price, is also another actor whose contribution is an asset in the film. Michael Gambon, leaner and tanner, is a cool drug lord who rules a vast empire. Colm Meaney also is excellent, as well as the extensive cast.
Look for the next film by Matthew Vaughn!
I was expecting good things and wasn't disappointed. It's been a while
since I saw a good British gangster film. Layer Cake filled the void
nicely. The acting was good, script was tight and the film was well
cast. People I had not seen before were well used in their characters.
The film starts out nice and simple but as it progreses it gets quite
deep and twisted.
I was most surprised by Colm Meaney, I've ever only known him in Startrek.
But was superbly cast and had a quite menacing air about him.
LC has a few laughs for those with a more twisted sense of humour, it's not obvious comedy either and the film never plays for laughs. Very different to Lock Stock and Snatch. The director did well to move out from Guy Ritchie and make a serious film.
I can IMPOSSIBLY outline the plot of Matthew Vaughn's Layer Cake, so
I'll just say it's about a nameless guy (Daniel Craig) doing some
criminal stuff in London.
In my observation there are three approaches to gangster characters in crime films: 1) The overly-amateurish 'gangsters' that are scared sh*t and mess up, like in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, 2) The kind of gangster who is an amateur, but picks up on criminal ways quickly and effortlessly if the occasion calls for it, like Max the cab driver from Collateral and 3) The stone-cold professionals who can do whatever, whenever with whatever, like any mob-boss, contract killer, etc.
What is so endlessly refreshing about Layer Cake (2004) is that it applies none of these approaches to its main character Daniel Craig. He is a drug-dealer, but reluctantly resorts to violent ways. He hates guns. Murders and violence disturb him. He takes time to cope with things. He shows fear and hesitation. He actually bleeds when he is hit. In short, he is an extremely realistic person and this facilitates the film's realistic atmosphere - there's no glossy visuals or over-the-top violence.
Now, it is my opinion that Layer Cake could have perhaps used some of the latter to spice things up. Its director is the producer of Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and it is clear here that he is trying to move away from flashy Ritchie editing and effects as much as possible, making his own film just a bit too barren in order to be 'different'. It works fine, but as a result, the gangster characters aren't very funny or colourful - rather they are down-to-earth London men trying to make a living. A shady living, true, but still a living.
A few bland characters and an extra-template romantic storyline featuring Sienna Miller (I like her, but she is redundant in this film) drag this film down, but overall it is a very solid crime thriller, superbly acted by Daniel Craig. The score is great. In particular, please note the great use of "Ordinary World" by Duran Duran. Layer Cake isn't gloriously entertaining or anything but it feels very real and engaging and it is interesting to see the acting abilities of future Mr Bond - as well as his bare chest.
This is a clever drug dealer movie set in the UK. It starts out with
the main character (XXXX) and narrator cheerfully extolling the virtues
of the drug industry when you are careful and organised like he is. He
is about to retire with a nice little fortune. Then it all starts to go
wrong, one thing after another as layers are added to the plot.
Sometimes it seems as if the plot is too complex and there are two dangers, one of leaving the audience behind and two leaving gaping holes in the plot. Still the humour and action set pieces are enough to pull it through. It is not as good as Snatch or Lock, Stock etc but is original enough to stand on its own right. Worth a look.
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