DVD Review : Layer Cake MoviePosted by: The Dude
The British gangster film has always been one of my favorite genres. Mainly because it feels like the characters weren't influenced by American gangster films. And if they were, they were influenced by the wrong gangster films. Guy Ritchie has been on the forefront of these films, making crime thrillers that play like episodes of Seinfeld, with the plots going in some of the most absurd directions imaginable, and all somehow loosely tying itself together by the time the end credits roll.
Matthew Vaughn, the producer of Ritchie's films, has finally decided to branch off and try his hand at directing. It might not come as a surprise to find out that it's another British crime thriller, but this one is a lot different from the flights of fancy of Ritchie's films. The film I speak of is Layer Cake. And it kicks some ass.
Layer Cake stars Daniel Craig as the main character. He has no name, and is never referred to in the film. Usually a warning sign that the film is being too clever for it's own good, but it manages to work. Anyway, Craig's character is a drug dealer, but a very cautious one. Very smart and calculating. He feels the problem with most criminals these days is that they all want to be flash and high profile, which is the biggest mistake that a criminal can make. Anyway, he's a smooth operator, and like most criminals, he's finishing up and plans on retiring.
He works for Jimmy, the head of the organization. Craig always pays Jimmy on time, with no slip ups. One day, Craig is summoned for a spot of lunch with Jimmy, and alarm bells begin to ring. Jimmy wants Craig to do two things for him above and beyond the call of duty. ("It's called sacrifice", Jimmy explains). First off, Craig has to find the missing daughter of Eddie Temple, an associate in the criminal underworld and an old childhood friend of Jimmy's.
Jimmy has also tapped Craig to take care of a man named Duke, who has recently come into a whole lot of ecstasy pills. Craig is supposed to sell them, even though Duke stole the pills from a Serbian war criminal, and was using Craig's name (again, never spoken aloud) so the Serbians think Craig is responsible.
These are the set ups that drive the plot through a twisty crime underworld, where even the tiniest moments have consequences. Giving away any more of the story would take away from the fun, as these types of movies thrive on plots that require close attention. Why ruin it?
The performances are top notch. Daniel Craig is badass. Cool, calm, collected, and generally in charge of every scene, even when events around him are spiraling out of control. And I swear his eyes aren't of this world. They're a creepy electric blue, not unlike Josh "Why was i in Stealth" Lucas. As Craig's right hand man Morty, George Harris is great. He played Katanga in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and he's really cool in this. The scene with "Ordinary World" by Duran Duran playing in the background is particularly good. Colm Meany is very good as Gene, Jimmy's loyal right hand man. And as Eddie, Michael Gambon manages to steal the movie right from under Craig.
The direction is surprisingly better than I expected, which sounds a lot meaner than it's meant to be. I expected the film to be ultra stylish, and amazed more by it's own technical achievements than with servicing the story. (As much as I love Snatch and Lock,Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, those flicks really are over stylized). It's a lot more subtle, and very confident. Vaughn did a great job, and watching this flick only infuriated my anger that Brett Ratner is directing X3. He got great performances and juggled a complex plot, and delivered it all in a beautiful package.
The music choices are top notch. There's a good score, as well as pop tunes sprinkled throughout for great effect. (I already mentioned the Duran Duran scene). The cinematography is good, framing things just right, and the editing is tight. not too much quick cutting, MTV style. There are moments, yes, but it's all in service of the story. Can't seem to emphasize that enough.
All in all, Layer Cake is a solid motion picture experience. Sure, I had trouble understanding what some people were saying due to the accents, and sure I wasn't a little confused by the inevitable conclusion, but it warrants a second viewing. (And third and fourth). Check it out for a fun time that differs from the others.