|Layer Cake (2005)
Starring: Daniel Craig, Colm Meany, Michael Gambon, Sienna Miller, George Harris
Director: Matthew Vaughn
ALSO! Check out where it ranked in our 2005 Year in Review.
When the producer of “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” announces that he’s making the transition to directing, moviegoers expect a certain kind of film, and “Layer Cake,” Matthew Vaughn’s directorial debut, is definitely not it. Instead, the British gangster film delivers a stark look at the criminal underground, and in doing so, stays far away from the comedic caricatures that Guy Ritchie paints. The film is a lot harder to swallow than the usual Ritchie caper, mostly because it tends to take a more mature look inside the many-layered world of crime, and the film stalls as a result. Still, with the perfect cast of British talent at his side, and a flawless cinematic style, Vaughn’s film can’t be all that bad, can it? No, but despite all of its accomplishments, “Layer Cake” is still not the film you were hoping for.
With mere months separating him from his final days on the job, a classy cocaine dealer known only as Mr. X (Daniel Craig) is called in by his main supplier, Jimmy (Kenneth Cranham), for one last favor: to track down the daughter of his boss, Eddie Temple (Michael Gambon), and find a buyer for a million-count supply of ecstasy. Okay, so maybe that’s two favors, but who’s really counting in gangland? Knowing absolutely nothing about tracking down a missing person, X quickly passes the job over to a couple of hired hands and begins to work on striking a deal with the Duke (Jamie Foreman), the hotheaded owner of the pills. Along for the ride are two of X’s associates, Gene (Colm Meaney) and right-hand man Morty (George Harris), but when things get out of hand, X finds himself alone in a complex plot filled with two-timing thugs and disloyal business partners.
Craig’s performance as the film’s anti-hero is very reminiscent of cool-as-a-cucumber Steve McQueen, and it becomes increasingly easier to picture the upcoming Brit actor as the newest Bond with every role he commands. The rest of the cast are especially enjoyable to watch work together, namely Meaney, who injects the smallest bit of dark humor into his performance, and veteran Gambon’s scene-stealing act as the corporate crime boss. Vaughn can also be commended for his sharp photography skills, integrating beautiful edits as he transitions from one scene to another, but this simply isn’t enough when creating a cult classic like “Snatch” or “Lock, Stock.” Even the Vaughn-produced “Mean Machine” had much better pacing than this.
The main problem with “Layer Cake” is its convoluted plot, which has far too many insignificant characters who casually come and go throughout the course of the film. And this causes a lot of unneeded confusion for the audience, who will have trouble enough understanding what half of the characters on screen are actually saying. I’ve seen a fair share of British films in the past decade, but never have I seen such a high percentage of thick-accented actors rushing through their lines like they just popped a few too many hits of Mr. X’s X. “Layer Cake” still holds up pretty well as Vaughn’s first directing gig, thanks again to his dream team cast of actors. But if you’re a sucker for Guy Ritchie’s upbeat films about the humorous side to crime, then this may be a lesson in cinema that’s not worth learning.
Sony Classics rolls out another winning DVD with the single-disc release of the British import, “Layer Cake.” The film has been transferred over to disc with a beautiful 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio and a 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track. While the film received a trivial theatrical release in the U.S., the DVD for the film offers a lot of great extras (most likely already a part of the British DVD that was released months prior. An audio commentary can usually make or break a disc, but in the case of “Layer Cake,” it doesn’t do too much harm. The full-length track audio featuring the director and writer of the film isn’t the best material on the disc, mostly because it’s all a bunch of soft mumbling throughout. Fans of the film will find more enjoyment in the DVD’s 14 deleted scenes and two alternate endings, as well as a 20-minute Q&A with director Vaughn and star Craig. Rounding out the disc are two storyboard comparisons of specific scenes from the film, a 5-minute “Making of Layer Cake,” poster gallery and three movie trailers. All in all, you’ll be very pleased with this DVD release if you’re a fan of the film, but if you didn’t enjoy the movie, then you probably won’t enjoy this disc.