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LAYER CAKE (R) (2004)

Sony Classics

Official Site

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Producers: Adam Bohling, David Reid, Matthew Vaughn

Written by: J.J. Connolly, from his novel

Cast: Daniel Craig, Michael Gambon, George Harris, Colm Meaney, Sienna Miller, Kenneth Cranham, Tamer Hassan


Layer Cake is the latest modern British gangster flick from Snatch and Lock Stock producer, Matthew Vaughn (also producer of… Swept Away), who steps in to direct his first feature, replacing frequent collaborator Guy Ritchie. It worked out well enough since Vaughn was tapped to helm X-Men 3 after Bryan Singer bolted to Superman.

The film focuses on the nameless and shrewd drug dealer, XXXX (Craig). XXXX isn’t very ambitious. His main goal is to make some money and then cash out. What XXXX is too stupid to realize is that he’s not a gambler, inside trader, or porn star. He’s a drug dealer, and his associates and superiors—guys like Jimmy Price (Cranham), Eddie Temple (Gambon), and Gene the hitman (Meaney)—are high-powered Mafiosi. And as you know, high-powered Mafiosi aren’t exactly going to let the most successful coke dealer leave, no questions asked.

After getting fingered in a stolen drug merchandise heist and being charged with finding Eddie Temple’s missing daughter, the noose begins to tighten. XXXX doesn’t have much else other than his dry wit, his closest buddies—Morty (Harris), Terry (Hassan), and Gene—a strong sense of self preservation, and a desire to keep his disembodied head out of an ice chest. He’s also caught the eye of the gorgeous Sienna Miller (yet another future Mrs. The Vile One… after Jude Law dumps her like he did Sadie Frost).

Sometimes I have a problem with gangster and heist films. At times it feels as if the films glorify and romanticize a horrible business and horrible people. Layer Cake contains a little more ugliness and in seeing that negative side of the drug business, I felt that the ending (which the studio obviously wanted changed) puts a more ambiguous and more well-rounded look at the big picture. I definitely didn’t feel that this was a black-and-white movie. Even though I think drug dealers are among the scum of the earth, Craig’s XXXX is a likeable and very cool character.

The supporting cast here is strong and full of interesting, fleshed-out characters. This goes for Morty and Gene especially, whose backgrounds are illuminated in flashbacks. Meaney’s Gene, a hitman for Jimmy Price, especially I’d say is the real breakout performance here. Hassan (also a consultant for the movie’s content due to his background), as XXXX’s hired muscle Terry, is a character I thought was underdeveloped and would’ve liked to have seen more of. Cranham and Gambon are fantastic scumbags and great as the high-powered British Mafia heads.

The biggest drawback with Layer Cake is that it doesn’t seem to break much new ground in gangster movies. First-time director Vaughn does a commendable job of weaving a gritty and hyper-real narrative which focuses more on the story and characters than on the heavy style of Ritchie’s British gangster films. Don’t misunderstand me, though. This movie has plenty of style to spare.

—Jeffrey “The Vile One” Harris

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

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