Sunday, November 05, 2006

Layer Cake

Since watching 'Munich' recently, I've drunkenly argued that Daniel Craig will make a good James Bond at least once. Casino Royale is released on November 17th, allowing audiences to decide on the merits of Craig as Bond in an actual movie however, rather than simply on the appearance of the actor. Maybe the jury is still out... At least in Layer Cake, Craig gets the chance to simply be a leading man in a straight-forward gangster movie, without all that Bond baggage hanging over him.

Given that Layer Cake is a gangster movie, and an English production, you could be forgiven for putting it in the same category as something from the pen of Guy Ritchie. Indeed, perhaps the reason why Layer Cake hasn't had the same level of success as, say, 'Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' is audience fatigue with the tongue-in-cheek Cockney gangster flick. However, to simply write off Layer Cake as another Lock Stock is unfair, as there is enough quality on display in the movie to differentiate it from the slew of copycat efforts that were churned out following Guy Ritchie's success.

First of all, the characters in Layer Cake are not simply cardboard cutouts. Yes, some of them have dangerous sounding nicknames, but hey, so do the real life bad guys. The thing that makes Layer Cake interesting is probably Daniel Craig's character. His brand of gangster is a cocaine-dealing businessman, experienced in making sales, but lacking in exposure to the sorts of criminal acts that mean he needs to get his hands properly dirty. He is not a weary, wise-cracking wideboy. His character has to face up to violent situations for the first time, learn how to handle guns, and generally think his way out of various situations involving numerous unsavoury characters, and Craig does a good job of portraying his fear, his inexperience, and his general distaste for the nasty side of the business he finds himself embroiled in, and all just when he was about to retire from the business...

Ok, so now we're talking about a criminal who's about to retire. Well, I didn't say Layer Cake was entirely free of cliches now did I!? It does many things well, and is a good representation of the genre, but let's be honest, it's not ground-breaking in its originality!

It looks great, and director Matthew Vaughn has a good eye for light and colour, which transfers very well to the screen. The script is intelligent, the dialogue is zippy but never self-conscious or too clever, and the action is slickly crafted, with a pace to keep even short attention spans happy. Also, the third act twists and turns so much, you'll be unlikely to guess how it all pans out. The rest of the cast, including Colm Meaney (who I dont think has ever played a similar character to this) and George Harris as Craig's sidekick Morty (an angry man) are quite good, and the dialogue isn't just witty one-liners and rhyming slang, it's intelligent and well-delivered.

However, despite a very good opening hour, the third act of Layer Cake left me a little cold. I was always interested to see how the story panned out, but I found it a case perhaps of one twist too many in the end.

Verdict: In a word, good. Not worth going out of your way for, though.
Rating: 6/10

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