Layer Cake

Cast:
Daniel Craig as XXXX
Kenneth Cranham as Jimmy Price
Michael Gambon as Eddie Temple
Tom Hardy as Clarkie
Jamie Foreman as Duke
Colm Meaney as Gene
Sally Hawkins as Slasher
Sienna Miller as Tammy
Burn Gorman as Gazza
George Harris as Morty
Tamer Hassan as Terry
Marcel Iures as Slavo
Francis Magee as Paul the Boatman
Dimitri Andreas as Angelo
Garry Tubbs as Brian
Nathalie Lunghi as Charlie
Marvin Benoit as Kinky
Rab Affleck as Mickey
Dexter Fletcher as Cody
Steve John Shepherd as Tiptoes
Ben Whishaw as Sidney
Paul Orchard as Lucky
Stephen Walters as Shanks
Louis Emerick as Trevor
Ivan Kaye as Freddie Hurst
Jason Flemyng as Crazy Larry
Ben Brasier as Jerry Kilburn
Neil Finnighan as Troop
Budge Prewitt as Golf

Summary:
Layer Cake is a complex and intriguing crime drama that gets deep into the world of drug trafficking. It’s often too complicated for its own good, but it gets better as it makes its way through a mindblowing series of twists.

Story:
A nameless cog in the drug trafficking machine (Daniel Craig) gets in over his head when he tries to do one last job before quitting the business. All he has to do is find the daughter of a criminal overlord and find a buyer for a huge shipment of stolen ecstasy. It doesn’t take long before this drug middleman is caught up in an intricate plot involving all levels of the drug trade and is forced to tie up far too many loose ends.

Analysis:
For whatever reason, the British seem to be endlessly fascinated with drugs and crime, which may be why some of the best films coming from the UK tend to fall into that genre. The ’90s produced a new breed of crime director in Guy Ritchie and Danny Boyle, who both took the hardboiled crime films of the ’60s and ’70s and added enough modern sensibilities to make the genre cool again.

Now, the producer of Ritchie’s films, Matthew Vaughn, has taken over the director’s chair for Layer Cake, adapted by J.J. Connolly from his novel of the same name. The premise is based on the theory that the drug trade is a multi-layered tier ranging from lowly dealers on the street to the rich and powerful men behind the scenes, who have their fingers in big business and the government.

The set-up for this story is not done in a particularly imaginative or clever way, tending to be too complicated right out of the gate, even compared to Ritchie’s intricate films. For the first twenty or thirty minutes, it’s hard to understand what is happening, since so many characters are introduced, and it’s unclear where they fall into the grand scheme of things.

Not that this veers too far away from the ensemble crime films that Vaughn has produced in the past, but there are some major differences, the first one being that all of the characters are somehow involved in drugs or crime. Vaughn’s England is hipper and more modern than Ritchie’s, less about the British working class and more about the ruling class that makes the world of drugs go round. Vaughn’s taste in music is not quite as hip as that of Ritchie or Boyle, but obvious choices like the Stones or Duran Duran still work for the scenes. His London looks sharper and cleaner, though that doesn’t mean that the world is any less violent. In some cases, it seems like the violence is done for the sake of violence, rather than done to move the story forward.

What saves the movie is that Vaughn has assembled an impressive cast of some of England’s finest for his directorial debut, with a few recognizable faces from past Brit crime films. Daniel Craig is terrific, bringing an intensity to his character as well as a charm that makes it very hard not to like him as he plays all sides against each other. His character tends to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, creating a domino effect when his last drug deal goes wrong, putting him on the defensive to keep things leading back to him. It’s certainly something that people in legitimate business should be able to relate to, as he tries to control a situation spiraling out of control.

Connolly’s writing is decent if not a bit dry with the type of dialogue that you would normally expect from a British crime film, but the best moments are the scenes between Craig and Colm Meaney, who plays the right-hand man to Craig’s overbearing boss, Jimmy Price. Price himself is played with much zeal by Kenneth Cranham, whose played similar roles in the past, and George Harris is also great as the hardened consigliore Morty, who did time for killing someone at Jimmy’s behest. This subplot allows for a great scene–probably the film’s most violent–where he takes his anger out on a seemingly innocent homeless man.

As the layers of the story are unveiled with the introduction of more characters, what seems like a meandering story starts to get more focused and interesting, and things really begin to pick up steam when Craig hooks up with the ultra-hot Sienna Miller for a sexy liaison. At this point, Michael Gambon enters the picture as Eddie Temple, a wealthy businessman who is running the whole show, and he quite literally steals the movie, giving a performance that is about as far removed from his role as the kind wizard Dumbledore as one can be. From there, the pace accelerates with a series of unexpected twists and turns that keep you guessing, but ultimately, it saves the movie from mediocrity.

The Bottom Line:
It takes a while for things to get going, but once they do, Layer Cake is quite an intriguing look at the world of drugs and crime. The terrific cast and Vaughn’s distinct sense of style saves this from being “just another British crime film.”

Layer Cake opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.

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