Michael Vaughn's directorial debut Layer Cake is a very slick, well shot film, filled with twists, turns and flashbacks showing key scenes as the movie jumps forward. Film uses similar music to Scorsese, including Gimme Shelter, and features the now-obligatory face stamping scene, this time set to an evocative Ordinary World by Duran Duran. Daniel Craig is excellent as usual, playing a posh drug dealer whoís had it too good for too long. Suffice to say the plot is a little confusing and lost me at times.
Top (old) boys Kenneth Cranham and Michael Gambon (sporting a Costa del Sol inspired fake tan) use Craig to recover their money. Craig runs a tight crew and preferring to avoid violence in his line of work,but is gradually drawn into a game of stolen pills, murder, double-cross and a gangsters missing daughter. A professional with strict codes and routines, he struggles in the aftermath of committing his first murder. Great casting, particularly Jamie Foreman as unsteady boss The Duke. This is another good example of an author adapting his own book into a screenplay. The dialogue is spot on, never cheesy, a million miles from the pretentious posturing of Vaughn cohort Guy Ritchie's efforts such as Snatch and Lock, Stock. You might be forgiven for thinking that a life of crime looks appealing, but here everyone pretty much gets their comeuppance and glamorisation is nonexistent.
Cranham and Gambon have real presence, both having a lot of fun with their respective roles. Craig owns the screen, effortless cool, how Bond would be if he distributed kilos of cocaine. Direction is so assured on Vaughn's debut here that itís not surprising he was offered Stardust as his next project. The guy can probably pick and choose now. If only he had stayed on board, X3 wouldnít have been anything like the disappointment it was. Very stylish and brutal, Layer Cake is a joy to watch. Criminals are portrayed realistically, never over the top unless their characters demand it. Hilariously manic and well observed, each time the Duke and his bumbling crew were on screen I burst into laughter!
For me, Layer Cake echoed the novels of Elmore Leonard in that the central characters become somewhat manipulated and end up playing off against each other. I was also reminded of The Long Good Friday - a confident British gangster movie in which the central character's empire starts to crumble and he doesn't know why. Another film that was more than worth the wait, again I had to ask myself why I didnít watch this film when it was first released. Craig's decline from in-control weight mover to manipulated pawn begins as soon as he gets involved with outsiders. Colm Meaney has never been better as a gangster middleman, more involved in the proceedings than initially suspected.
Watching a film like this with an ex City of London policeman was an interesting experience. I donít remember many inconsistencies being pointed out to me, although realism was scrutinized and the film came off well. Sure itís stylised but very enjoyable. Who cares when it looks this good? Events unfold and subsequent questions are all answered via flashbacks, so the film never loses pace. Gambon lights up every scene he's in. Narratives seem to be popular with the crime movie but here it's put to good use.
Just remember - this is not a business you can just walk away from. To quote Steven Soderbergh's Traffic - "no one gets away clean."