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June 18, 2011

Movie Review – Layer Cake (2004)

by NIR SHALEV

Daniel Craig plays XXXX, a nameless cocaine dealer and middleman who’s implemented a certain set of rules into his job and lifestyle and plans on retiring soon. One day, a bigwig named Jimmie Price (Kenneth Cranham) invites XXXX to his prestigious country club and provides him with two jobs to perform: find the missing, drug addicted daughter of a good colleague of his, Eddie Temple (Michael Gambon), and two, meet up with a gangster named The Duke (Jaime Foreman), take one million pills of ecstasy off his hands and sell them. Neither job is easy to perform, and this is only the first twenty minutes of the film.

XXXX finds out that the million ecstasy pills were stolen from a Serbian drug lord operating out of Amsterdam and that The Duke had named him his accomplice. Now the Serbs are looking to find XXXX and they demand their money back. But what does this have to with Eddie Temple’s missing daughter? Half way through the film is where everything connects, and I mean everything. And that’s just the first act of this well written screenplay that entangles gangsters, drug dealers, rich retirees, police informants, a yellow Range Rover and a few bullets here and there.

If this sounds similar to Guy Ritchie’s Snatch (2002) then you’re not far off. Matthew Vaughan produced Ritchie’s first couple of films and Layer Cake is his directorial debut. He took on this project due to its terrific screenplay and as a result he delivers a well paced, well acted, well shot, and entertaining gangster film, one which isn’t similar to most others.

Here we have a film that takes it time and develops its characters and their environments first and foremost so that the complex parts of the story can slowly enter the film’s second act, which is most of the second half of the film. It’s never a complicated plot to follow because the actors speak slowly and always to the point. No one tries to be cooler than they are because they know that showing off would get them killed. These are not caricatures of gangsters, like those encompassing the world of Snatch and so this film tries not to be a comedy. It’s relatively down to earth and for every action that a character takes an appropriate consequence ensues.

The performances by Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig are simply outstanding. They play this for keeps, never winking at the audience and never breaking out of character. The keep us entertained even during the parts that contain terrible suspense. The cast also includes Tom Hardy, now popular for his portrayal of Michael Peterson/Charles Bronson, and who’s going to play Bane in the upcoming Dark Knight Rises; Colm Meaney, popular for his role in the TV series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; Sally Hawkins, Oscar nominated for her performance in Happy-Go-Lucky (2008); and Sienna Miller from Factory Girl (2006) and Vaughn’s follow-up film Stardust (2007).

This is still Matthew Vaughn’s best film to date and it’s relatively flawless. Every question is answered by the end of the film and the repeat value is rather high. This is a well shot and acted film that deals with gangsters in a more realistic sense, even though they exist in a glossy-looking world it’s a relatively real one nevertheless. It looks just like our world and it is, and whenever someone dies it’s quick and it serves the plot; there’s no beating around the bush. There are also slight elements of film noir embedded in the story and look of the film, like a noir during the daytime, but that’s probably just my mind working overtime as per usual.

This is a film to watch, be entertained by, and remember. And then, after watching X-Men: First Class one would note that even though both films may look glossy, they are mostly character driven and that’s the sign of a good film producer turned excellent director.


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Possibly Related Posts: (Commentary Track generated)

Reviews of Matthew Vaughn’s enjoyable fantasy Stardust, the polarizing Kick-Ass, and his most recent film, X-Men: First Class.

Read more from Movie Reviews, Nir Shalev

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