Layer Cake (2004)
Having had a hand in producing Guy Ritchie's cockney gangster movies "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch" Matthew Vaughn gave us his directional debut with "Layer Cake". A movie which shares similarities with Ritchie's movies being another violent, action movie based on the criminal underworld in London with a huge touch of dead pan humour but is also stylish and shares similarities to the likes of "Goodfellas" and "Casino". As such "Layer Cake" is pretty damn good and will keep you glued with a storyline which throws a few twists at you, make you laugh through the dead pan humour yet in a pleasant way doesn't feel as forced as the other notable British gangster movies. Plus of course it gave us Daniel Craig playing a smooth operator as the unnamed XXXX a role which no doubt lead to him getting the iconic role of James Bond.
XXXX has it sorted, he may be a drug dealer but he's no low life, he's a business man with a plan, a plan which will see him retire wealthy very soon. That is until he is ordered by his superior Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham) to do two jobs for him, one to find the daughter of Eddie Temple (Michael Gambon) and the other is to take a million ecstasy tablets off the hands of The Duke a wide boy with ideas of grandeur. Out of his comfort zone, XXXX's life becomes messy as he has to get his hands dirty in the seedier side of the crime underworld.
One of the instantly noticeable things is that "Layer Cake" starts in a similar manner to the likes of "Casino" where we learn all about the main man, a character who we never learn his name, who although is in the drugs business is a business man with a plan. What follows is basically how his well thought out life and total control spirals out of control when he is asked to perform two jobs for his immediate superior. It's nicely done and we have a nice narrative arc to follow which keeps us constantly entertained as the man, or xxxx as the credits call him, struggles to keep control of a situation which is getting messy.
Messy is in fact a bit of an understatement as we basically have a storyline of incompetent loud mouth drug dealers, rivalry, dangerous henchman and a constant state of duplicity. It's cleverly done as there are several separate storylines from The Duke, a more chavvy version of Del Boy, and his hoard of drugs, the missing daughter which xxxx is told to track down, a bit of romance and of course the whole cockney underworld scene. As such "Layer Cake" is full of action with various shootings and vicious beatings with one of the most memorable featuring Morty taking his revenge on someone in a cafe. It's your typical in your face action and violence the stuff we've seen before and it makes the right sort of impact on the movie, making you sit up and pay attention.
But one of the great things about "Layer Cake" is that it doesn't feel forced or at least not as forced as say "Snatch". The whole cockney thing is not over egged as in other movies making it all the more natural and funny. And talking of funny the humour as well is unforced, it's almost natural that we laugh at a scene or a character not a joke intentionally inserted to derive humour.
It also has a stylish side and the opening scenes where we listen to xxxx describing his worth ethics and the whole drug culture whilst walking through a shop where the shelves change as he passes by is visually a treat. The stylishness continues through out making it in a strange way beautiful yet never losing the grittiness of the story.
Of course one of the big things about "Layer Cake" is that it stars Daniel Craig and many say his performance as xxxx was a contributory factor to him becoming James Bond in "Casino Royale". He certainly delivers both that smooth operator side and also that dangerous aspect which are very similar to what we see him give as James Bond but he also delivers so much more. There are some nice scenes which demonstrate his fear as his nice controlled life is spiralling out of control. But of course there is also the scene where he gets given a gun and although he wasn't Bond yet gives a performance straight out of the Bond handbook as he sneaks about with the gun.
Aside from Craig "Layer Cake" is not short when it comes to other notable performances with both Michale Gambon and Kenneth Cranham delivering the goods as the crime bosses. Plus Com Meaney and George Harris are equally good as two henchmen and it wouldn't be a Brit gangster movie with out Dexter Fletcher who as always delivers an amusing role as Cody. But "Layer Cake" really is Daniel Craig's movie and he leads it wonderfully.
What this all boils down to is that "Layer Cake" is one of the best if not the best of the crop of British gangster movies to have come out early on in the 21st century. It's got all the expected elements from the violence and action through to the dead pan humour but it is also stylish and a lot less forced than other similar movies. As his directional debut Vaughn does a magnificent job as does Daniel Craig as the main character, the man with no name.
Title: Layer Cake
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: Daniel Craig, Tom Hardy, Jamie Foreman, Sally Hawkins, Burn Gorman, Brinley Green, George Harris, Tamer Hassan, Colm Meaney, Sienna Miller