on June 30, 2005
Even though his name is never revealed during the course of the British crime thriller, "Layer Cake," we get to know the hero very well, very fast.
"I'm not a gangster," he explains. "I'm a businessman whose commodity happens to be cocaine."
This guy, identified as XXXX in the end credits, deals only in neatly wrapped kilos; he employs a smart chemist, a slick accountant and a loyal posse of heavies; he has a legitimate business on the side and he tools around London in a sleek silver Audi (station wagon).
And while he might be a "T-shirt and jeans" kind of guy, he sports very expensive-looking T-shirts and jeans.
Of course, the only reason crime thrillers stress the professionalism of their main characters is so we can watch as circumstances eventually force them to break their own rules and pay a stiff price.
Those circumstances appear in the form of Jimmy (Kenneth Cranham) a grumpy upper-level gangster who summons XXXX and demands two sketchy favors of him. XXXX complies and quickly finds himself up to his earlobes in thugs, mols, Serbian assassins and the kind of bottom-feeders he likes to shun.
"Layer Cake" was directed by Matthew Vaughn, who previously produced Guy Ritchie's "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch." All three movies have a lot in common but Ritchie's amped-up films bounce off the walls and onto the ceiling; Vaughn's is colder and more calculating - to use a Brit pop analogy, if Ritchie's movies are akin to the strutting, pub brawlers Oasis, Vaughn's is the orchestral-but-grooving The Verve.
Eventually, though, the plot becomes ridiculously complicated. While it is possible to make sense of all the scams and double-crosses, the movie is a lot more interesting when it focuses on characters instead of twists and coincidences and two particularly exaggerated violent beatings. By the last act, the movie is just chasing its own tail... and yet, somehow, it's a hard movie to dislike.
Despite its terrible title (a euphemism for the gangster hierarchy) but it oozes cool: XXXX is played by Daniel Craig who could almost be a gaunt, slightly freeze-dried Steve McQueen circa "Bullitt" ; the great Michael Gambon shows up as a phlegmatic, aging tiger of a mob boss; Sienna Miller wanders through long enough to model lingerie to the Stones' "Gimme Shelter" ; and though this is his first film, Vaughn really knows how to move a story along with style.
If he can keep the plot from overwhelming the characters next time around, he might turn out to be a really good director.
on March 21, 2006
Not knowing what to expect, this was one of those movies that surprised and then kept on surprising. "The Layer Cake" is perhaps the most complete movie I have seen in a long while, with elements inter-linking all through to provide a varied and wild concoction of violence, humour and thrill.
The unnamed main character, (Daniel Craig), narrates the movie of his dealings in the underworld's drug scene, dispensing his wisdom all the while, including his "golden rules" for dealing drugs. XXXX gets involved with a deal regarding some pills, and also gets pulled into a favour for a criminal leader further up the food chain. The plot twists and turns, and there is an array of very colourful characters, with equally colourful dialogue.
As noted by another reviewer, the musical score just blends effortlessly with the movie, making scenes more poignant and lending itself well to the overall feel of the movie itself.
The humour, though not a major feature, is there in its subtle way. A good example is the sex scene that almost was, until XXXX got nabbed by some very serious looking and large fellows. Irony abounds all through the movie, though humour is definitely not the mainstay of the plot.
The ending, (I won't spoil it), is excellent, and makes the preceding movie seem all the more powerful, especially in regard to XXXX's narrations. It was a complete surprise to me, and it was perfect.
For a mob movie, this one has to be among the best that I have seen. It has a whole range of qualities that mark it as different, right from the acting itself to the music. For lovers of something a bit different, this would be an excellent choice.
"Layer Cake" is of that increasingly popular film genre that goes by the loose title of British gangsterism. "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" comes to mind although this film is more a black comedy than "Layer Cake" which strives to remain true to its roots.
The essence of the film is that the lead character, XXXX, played by Daniel Craig is trying to retire from the drug trade. He's had enough, is now comfortably well off and has played the game carefully and by the rules, to the extent that rules exist. However, his retirement is postponed as he is drawn into an ever more complex web of intrigue and double crossing. He finds himself being exposed to greater risk that he would normally accept. He is forced to operate outside his comfort zone.
The film is well placed and totally entrancing as the viewer is gradually sucked in to this nether world of crime. His cohorts seem quite believable as do the lords of the game and the shadowy Bosnian mafia that lurks as a background threat. The plotting is complex and the deals always tense with big stakes being played. The film has "street cred".
The film's ending is unexpected. I will say no more as I don't want to spoil it for others. Perhaps the best advise is simply to see it!
If you like British crime movies or loved "The Usual Suspects" this move is for you. I actually saw this at our local art movie house and went twice. I can't believe it's on DVD so soon! With great acting (Daniel Craig is a young James Woods) and fab dialog, this isn't just a "thug" movie at all. The "layers" of this cake are spectacular. Just when you think you've got it figured out, it twists yet again. The fast-paced action keeps you interested and the music is awesome (I'll be getting the soundtrack next).
Don't miss this gem. You'll want to watch it over and over again.
on June 21, 2005
This film suffers because it comes from the same stable as Lock Stock and Snatch. The reason it suffers is that people expect a Lock Stock 3. It isn't. There's a new director in the chair and the film is a lot darker and edgier than the other two.
The first two were black comedies; this one isn't.
This movie won't have large shoot-outs, but what it will have is a movie with a very strong undercurrent of fear going through the lead's final days in business before he retires. But, retirement is not going to be easy.
Things start to go terribly wrong and one can feel the world coming out from under his feet as events outside of his control are starting to take over and things are going totally wrong.
This is not a film where a grand comical shoot out occurs in the last scenes to leave the anti-heroes (they're all bad bad guys not nice bad guys, remember) with the girl and the loot as in Snatch or Lock Stock. Things have to be resolved their own way.
The acting is wonderful; the characters (hoorah!) don't look like gangsters which is the whole point, despite complaints here to the contrary. The lead characters want to go through life without drawing attention to each other so there's no-one acting like cheap hoodlumns from Central Casting.
There's a couple of wonderful touches and, in one of them, I take my hat off to FCUK for their bravery in one of the early scenes. Wonderful stuff.
In short, a good film. Certainly the best British gangland film made so far; above Long Good Friday (even though nothing will surpass THAT ending) and Get Carter. And, a different film whatsoever to Lock Stock and Snatch.
If you want a film which requires thought then get this one, if you want a Hollywood style mob film with a simplistic plot then get another. This is most certainly not a Saturday night no-brainer movie; this is a classic British film.
on July 17, 2005
After an art house release everywhere else in the civilized world, LAYER CAKE (LC) unexpectedly premiered in our area, the Lehigh Valley, at the $4 theater in Easton (this joint started as a second-run theater, but it's been getting some acclaimed imports and indies lately, too. Somebody there is a good programmer!). This British import, adapted by J.J. Connolly from his novel, is a taut crime drama that moves with the sleek menace of a tiger. Imagine THE BIG SLEEP with an ever-so slightly more coherent plot and, as its protagonist, a prosperous, wily drug dealer looking to retire after one last score instead of tough but noble private eye Philip Marlowe. Our hero's problem is that he's a careful, calculating businessman in a dicey business where he's surrounded by loose cannons who shoot, stab, or punch first and ask questions later. Director Matthew Vaughn has been best known as Guy Ritchie's producer, but in his directorial debut Vaughn is like Martin Scorsese to Ritchie's Barry Sonnenfeld (that's meant as a compliment to all concerned, I assure you). It helps that Vaughn gets excellent performances from Daniel Craig as our cool but in-over-his-head unnamed antihero (usually films and books that refuse to name their main character strike me as trying too hard to be clever, but it works here), Michael Gambon nearly stealing the show as a cultured but ruthless narcotics kingpin, Colm Meaney and THE INTERPRETER's George Harris as our protagonist's partners in crime, and many folks from Guy Ritchie's films. Sienna Miller doesn't get to do much beyond being eye candy, but she's tasty eye candy indeed. I'm as heterosexual a gal as they come, but after seeing lithe, leggy Miller strip down to black lingerie and garters, I couldn't help thinking, "That Jude Law is one lucky guy!" :-) One of the things I liked about LC is that the protagonist, while thoughtful and competent, is never quite as clever as he thinks he is; somehow everybody manages to be one step ahead of him, if only because they're all so damned unpredictable. Though I've only seen Daniel Craig in three of his many films (the other two were THE ROAD TO PERDITION and THE JACKET), he's clearly one of those actors who never looks or sounds the same from role to role, so if he does indeed end up being Pierce Brosnan's successor as James Bond as rumored, it'll be interesting to see how he fares playing the same character in more than one film! :-) In any case, Craig certainly lives up to the "new Steve McQueen" rep that LC has garnered him. I look forward to seeing what he'll do next. The impressive stash of DVD extras include a making-of doc, a TIME OUT Q&A with Craig and Vaughn, an enjoyable and insightful commentary track by Vaughn and Connolly, the various posters considered, and enough deleted scenes to make a second movie.
on November 17, 2005
Plot Summary:Mr. X, a successful drug dealer with a plan to retire, is suddenly thrust into a drug score gone seriously wrong by a man who plays him as a pawn. Though it takes the better part of the movie for Mr. X to set himself on rails, he quickly asserts that he is no pawn to be played by three kings. The story involves hidden deals, shifting alliances, baggage and a game where the stakes quickly escalate. This is a wonderfully well-done crime movie.
It's hard to find much fault with this movie. I didn't catch all the twists in the plot so I'm sure this is a movie that will reward one and maybe two more vieiwings. The script is pretty good. It's an intelligent script, written for a viewer of crime dramas. The script doesn't spell out why certain events are happening; you have to piece together some of the connections. It doesn't totally tune you out. You do see some causal relationships between events and characters but the movie expects you to do some of the work.
The acting and character development are solid. Daniel Craig plays this role exceptionally well. His character moves through three phases that are marked by changes in the way Craig carries Mr. X, most notably through his facial expressions. In the opening section of the movie, we see Mr. X with calm, cool assurance. He does not screw people over in his deals. He is above board, he pays proper homage, he treats the men under him right. Then the fun begins and Daniel Craig shifts his character from a man of cool composure to a man whose face reflects suppressed surprised, a bit of indignation (as if, how is it I cannot retire?!) and a fair amount of "What the heck is going on?" The final phase of Craig's character is when he accepts the forces arrayed against him and he responds.
The pace of the script is casual even though the events playing out are far from casual. I think the pacing of the script is intended to convey the sense of calm composure X has within him. Though X gets rattled during phase 2 of his character's evolution, he nevertheless comes off polished without being one of those absurd action figures who are hypertalented and who somehow manage to avoid the laws of physics. X is calm because he's going to make the deal happen.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Sienna Miller in this movie. You may know her as the stunning British blonde jilted by that cad, Jude Law. She played an excellent romantic interest in <u>Keen Eddie</u>, a well-done cop show that I loved, yet it didn't last beyond a season.
The script doesn't show any of the behind the scenes manipulations Mr. X contrives to orchestrate the close of the deal. All it shows is a piecing together of what he set in motion.
This is a visually stunning movie. It's filmed with a cinematic clarity and crispness that I totally love. I do not like graininess, washed out colors or sloppy, boring shots. Layer Cake's cinematography and production are superb. The sets are well done, with colors that convey various hues at different points in the soundtrack, but overall the colors of the set give the film a kind of steely warmth; just enough cool edge to motivate but warm enough to help you believe that X has what it takes to rise above the bar in a game with rapidly escalating stakes.
There is one shot where X goes back to marshal up forces, including his accountant. When he walks into the accountant's office, it is totally bare. The shot of X's realization that his accountant has flipped on him is stunning: X crumples into a corner where creme carpet meets yellow walls and dark red leather square accents and dark wall paper. The shot is wide and it conveys the scope of emptiness at this point: he is truly on his own and he has to make this work right.
The camera work is excellent throughout the movie and the editing ties the shots together well. Ben Davis and Jon Harris, directors of photography for this film, did a class piece of work with this film. Their sense of composition, coloring and action is spot on. Nothing ever seemed out of place in the frame. The weakest shots are of the parking lot where one team of bad guys is holed up but that's because it's a gravel lot surrounded by chain link fence and dusty cars. Every other shot is solid.
Layer Cake's soundtrack is another element of strength. At three points in the movie (maybe four -- it might have happened once before I realized it was a part of the storytelling technique), the music comes up quite loudly. The musical choices are great: edgy, driving, masculing yet also classic. Maybe a kind of upper middle class kind of feel to the groove. The loud music signals a transition point in the movie. It's a cool technique and though the music is loud, it isn't distracting and the technnique isn't cutesy.
Layer Cake is a great crime movie. It's a British piece, so expect a different take on how the plat roles out. Appreciate that the movie lets you do some thinking on your own, absorb the stunning cinematics and enjoy the story as it is told.
on January 14, 2014
Layer Cake trades on Daniel Craig's talents and the rest of this cast, many of whom you'll recognize as character actors and from Guy Ritchie movies. The problem is the meandering plot, scenes about nothing, and the general lack of coherence. Ostensibly, Daniel Craig is a drug dealer who 1) Hates Guns, 2) Is trying to quit the business, 3) Knows what he's doing. Problem is, he gets enmeshed in a theft of pills from a psychotic Serbian drug lord. The connection that puts Craig's character in the hot seat is dubious at best: he asked to move the pills by his supplier of cocaine and then the Serbian quickly assumes Craig is responsible for stealing the pills resulting in Craig on the run, trying to get out, etc. All this runs around in circles with the usual drug-dealer killing, shooting, chasing, fighting, that would be more interesting if slimmed down and better told. Daniel Craig is a favorite actor of mine, but he got stuck in this piece with other very good actors for reasons that are beyond me. A couple of re-writes would have made this a decent film. Maybe if you're stuck on an airplane, it will keep you occupied for a few hours.
on April 2, 2014
Every once in awhile a film comes along that you know you should see again. This is one of those films. The book was meant to challenge ideas about what is moral and right and how little we humans actually shape our own lives. The movie version strives to be faithful to that goal but in doing so, relies on a lot of dialogue that a single or second or even third viewing can miss. This is especially true if you are unfamiliar with British accents. I can see why some viewers would not like this movie after one screening but I would urge them to watch it again. The story it is trying to tell is a lot bigger than the story most viewers will experience the first time around.
I am giving it only four stars because the book is better. I know that might not be fair, but as well illustrated within this film, neither is life.
on May 29, 2005
Layer Cake is a complicated movie with, oddly enough, many layers. You really need a scorecard with this type of movie. There's the gang lead by Daniel Craig (unnamed in the movie, and credited as a string of X's), which tends to use the services of a higher up gang lead by Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham), with Colm Meaney (Gene) the contact between the two gangs, most of the time. Jimmy's tossed Craig two business opportunities, one a "favor" and the other more in line with Craig's business. The "favor" involves tracking down the missing daughter of a powerful "friend" of Jimmy's (the girls done a "runner" from a drug rehab center; this powerful "friend" has a gang of his own, though he is more mainstream than the others, most of them, though, including Craig, have legitimate covers). The business opportunity involves Duke's gang (lead by Duke - Jamie Foreman). Duke's gang of amateur's is trying to break into the business, and have something like a million pills for sale. Pills they acquired in Amersterdam from another gang. Pill's they stole from this "Serbian" gang (I believe that's what they kept calling that gang), and the Amersterdam gang has sent off a hired killer named Dragon (maybe that's the Serbian) to get the pills back and "settle" matters (he is known for taking heads).
Well, Craig's the main focus of the movie and is currently working on two jobs (both for Jimmy's gang). He has sent off two others (whose connection to Craig I didn't figure out, though I believe they are contract workers) to search for the girl, while Craig personally handles the Duke business (with backing from people from Jimmy's gang, including his right hand man Colm Meaney). Another gang enters the picture in the form of the buyers from "up north," Trevor's gang (Trevor - played by Louis Emerick). Craig's character is a well-organized business like guy that doesn't particularly like guns. Jimmy is an older guy with odd tendencies to curse, but he is another one that believes that the drug trade should be handled like a business. Duke's gang has the loud, flashy, somewhat disorganized style of operations. Jimmy's "friend" is more mainstream than Jimmy, but still a criminal (his "gang members" are ex-military personnel). The other two gang's, Trevor's and the Amerstadam one, are harder to determine.
The acting is superb, not a bad apple in the bunch. The plot is strong and has, as the saying goes, many layers. The setting is interesting, showing a side of London I do not normally see (along with scenes from other locations). And the music is good. Overall, I would give the movie 4.38 stars. The movie is directed by Matthew Vaughn and written by J.J. Connelly based on his book.
I had gone to see this movie because it starred Daniel Craig, an individual with Bond rumors surrounding him (that he could be the individual playing the 007 role in the next Bond movie, Casino Royale). I came away with the impression that Craig could adequately play the Bond role, though he would have a harder looking face (more weathered) than has played the part in the past. There are even moments in the movie where Craig with a gun looks very much like Bond.
- Michael S. Briggs -