Planning to retire and begin a new life, Mr. X (Daniel Craig, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), a successful West End drug dealer, has been asked for one last favor: to negotiate the sale of one million hitsof Ecstasy. Unfortunately for Mr. X, the pills were stolen from a Serbian drug lord who'll cut offhis head if he sells them. And with a London crime czar (Michael Gambon, Open Range & The Insider)promising to retire him permanently if he doesn't, Mr. X may be rightfully concerned about his future. Nothing worth losing his head over.
As its title suggests, Layer Cake is a crime thriller that cuts into several levels of its treacherous criminal underworld. The title is actually one character's definition of the drug-trade hierarchy, but it's also an apt metaphor for the separate layers of deception, death, and betrayal experienced by the film's unnamed protagonist, a cocaine traffic middle-man played with smooth appeal by Daniel Craig (rumored at the time of this film's release to be on the short list for consideration as the next James Bond). Listed in the credits only as "XXXX," the character is trapped into doing a favor for his volatile boss, only to have tables turned by his boss's boss (Michael Gambon) in a twisting plot involving a stolen shipment of Ecstasy, a missing girl, duplicitous dealers, murderous Serbian gangsters, and a variety of lowlifes with their own deadly agendas. As adapted by J.J. Connolly (from his own novel) and directed by Matthew Vaughan (who earned his genre chops as producer of Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch), Layer Cake improves upon those earlier British gangland hits with assured pacing, intelligent plotting, and an admirable emphasis on plot-moving dialogue over routine action. Sure, it's violent (that's to be expected) and not always involving, but it's smarter than most thrillers, and Vaughan's directorial debut has a confident style that's flashy without being flamboyant. This could be the start of an impressive career. --Jeff Shannon