An intelligent and successful drug dealer is planning to retire from the game while he's still in one piece and enjoy his hard earned millions. His kingpin boss, however has other ideas. He needs a couple of very tricky favours before he will let his best employee go. The first: find the drug addict daughter of his friend - an even more powerful crime lord. The second: offload a massive shipment of ecstasy brought in by a loose cannon petty crook named The Duke. Two last jobs, thinks our hero, and then I'm free. But nothing's ever simple.
What the critics are saying:
"Layer Cake" is the latest project to come out of Ska Films - the outfit that brought the world "Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch". Like the two previous films, "Layer Cake" is a stylish, snappily dressed tale of hard-bitten gangsters going about their business. Unlike them it is a far darker, more hard-boiled thriller with 'serious drama' pretensions.
Ska's previous films were almost cartoonishly humorous in their exploration of the underworld. "Layer Cake" instead delves into the real consequences of crime - prison, drug addiction and death. Not that the film lacks humour or panache.At times it's just as slick and shiny as "Lock Stock" or "Snatch" - but there's always a sense of the harder edge of reality - the dire and tragic consequences for our hero if he puts a foot wrong.
Where the film does fall down is the pacing and construction and its story. Like Ska's other films, it has clever twists aplenty. But "Layer Cake"'s twists are often too neat, too easy. Unlike "Lock Stock", where you literally see every piece of the puzzle but are unable to put them together until the end, in "Layer Cake" a problem goes from insoluble to solved in a couple of confusing seconds. The result is more of a "Huh?" than the glorious "Aha!" of the other films. The plot also seems curiously disjointed, with several scenes that feel out of place or extraneous.
Both these problems seem to stem, at least in part, from the fact that the film is an adaptation of the JJ Connolly novel of the same name. Connolly himself wrote the original screenplay and his co-writer (and producer) David Reid admits that they "cut masses out and amalgamated so much stuff" for the final draft.
Another possible pitfall is that the film is Matthew Vaughn's directorial debut. As co-founder of Ska, Vaughn has produced five of director Guy Ritchie's last seven films, so he's certainly been exposed to some of the best in British film. Does that mean he's equipped to direct a feature film? I have my doubts. By all accounts he has acquitted himself very well, but it's still the first film he's ever directed, and it shows. It's hard to put a finger on exactly what's missing, but it can only be the small touches and refinements that a more experienced director brings to a project.
Whatever Vaughn's failings may be, the rest of the cast and crew certainly hold up their end. The cinematography and editing are less flashy than their other films, but the visuals still gleam with Ska Film's trademark style. The film also sports a classy Brit pop soundtrack and some excellent production design.
The cast are also largely excellent with Daniel Craig giving an especially impressive lead performance. He seems to be developing the kind of onscreen magnetism that would make him an excellent Bond, should he be chosen for the next 007 movie. Whether his obvious dramatic talents would be wasted on that franchise is an entirely different debate. As far as the supporting cast goes, it's always a pleasure to watch greats of British film like Michael Gambon and Colm Meany, even when they are given such two dimensional roles to play.
In the end "Layer Cake" is certainly very worth watching - the story is easily compelling enough to keep you interested for every one of its 105 minutes, and Ska's trademark style is as irresistible as ever. What's more, the psychological depth and seriousness are a welcome change from the jokiness of their other gangster capers. It's just that you are left with the lingering feeling that it could've been better.
- Alistair Fairweather
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