Imagine my surprise, then, when i found that this week’s selection might actually be watchable. Let’s take a look, then, at Layer Cake.
Initially wanting to be an actor, Matthew Vaughn thought better of it, and began in the British film industry. Vaughn served as producer for several of friend Guy Ritchie’s mockney gangster flicks, including Lock, Stock… and Snatch. Watching Ritchie work, Vaughn clearly decided it was a better gig, directing. His first film would follow Ritchie’s in the British gangster genre.
Daniel Craig is XXXX, a terrible conceit, so i’ll refer to him as Craig. Craig is a business man. He has personal guidelines, wears a suit, and won’t deal directly with his end consumers. His business? Drug dealing.
Craig conducts himself in a professional manner, so is perturbed when crime boss Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham) orders him to buy drugs from an amateur, and sends him on a fool’s errand to track down a missing girl. Things go from bad to worse when it is revealed the seller, named The Duke (Jamie Foreman), stole the drugs from a group of ex-military Serbians, killing one in the process. Whilst trying to negotiate the purchase of the drugs, and looking over his shoulder for a Serbian hit man, Craig discovers the missing girl is daughter of rival gang boss Eddie Temple (Michael Gambon). Jimmy has set him up.
Craig takes care of Jimmy, but with a deal still to be done, and his life still at risk, he finds Eddie pulling him in a third direction. Craig was on the verge of retirement, but now has a job on his hands just staying alive.
It’s impossible to judge Layer Cake without reference to Ritchie’s work, so i’ll make use of the comparison. Whilst Snatch et al. feature working class style shady characters, Craig’s smart, intelligent well spoken business man is a breath of fresh air. He is a calm character, but when it all starts to go wrong he finds himself slowly being brought down to the level of the hard nosed villains and petty scumbags he has taken great pains to avoid. Craig’s is a surprisingly well rounded character. He doesn’t like guns, he isn’t a fighter, and he goes weak at the sight of a gorgeous woman. Then, when he is forced to get his hands dirty, he reluctantly does what is necessary, but suffers emotionally for it afterwards. As he tries to plan, and tie up loose ends, it doesn’t come together easily for him.
Layer Cake could easily have slid into predictability, but Vaughn keeps it fresh, with enough surprises along the way to keep you guessing. Where Ritchie introduces a myriad of characters, who don’t get resolution until the big bow at the end, Vaughn cleans up as he goes. Vaughn uses flashbacks in a similar way to Ritchie in Snatch, which here are distracting and feel out of place. There are some genuinely good moments here. The scene where Craig is given a gun by Gene (the excellent Colm Meaney) is simple, yet with some wonderfully nuanced acting, feels like it belongs in a truly great movie.
Little scenes like this scattered about hint at directorial greatness, and it’s only really the more comedic scenes which drag this movie down. The more outlandish characters detract from a serious movie that generally explores some very interesting themes. The main crux is the story of a man who thinks he can stay clean in a murky world. With his rules and manners, Craig thinks he is above the petty criminals that share his circles, but learns the hard way that easy money is a difficult thing to earn.
If you can forgive the somewhat anti-climatic resolution, which suffers a little from fuzzy logic and suspect motivations, Layer Cake is a very good film, with flashes of brilliance. Where Lock, Stock… and Snatch are knockabout light entertainment, Vaughn’s first feature contains some real depth, and many, well, Layers.
I’d been looking forward to Kick-Ass because of the concept and great source material. Now i have another reason, because i think Vaughn has the potential to be a truly great film maker.
Layer Cake is available on iTunes at the discounted rate until Monday Midnight 23rd November, and on DVD now. And is definitely worth watching if you haven’t already.
Bazmann – You can now follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/baz_mann