Layer Cake (2004)
Starring: Daniel Craig, Colm Meaney, Kenneth Cranham, George Harris, Jamie Foreman, Sienna Miller, Michael Gambon
Directed By: Matthew Vaughn
If you're a fan of the British gangster flicks Guy Ritchie used to make, and were saddened when he detoured into making crappy remakes starring his wife, then you should enjoy the directorial debut by the guy who produced all of Ritchie's flicks (including the crappy one), Matthew Vaughn. Layer Cake is another Brit gangster flick in the same vein as those of Ritchie, and all the other stylish criminal tales with unending complications, colourful villains that speak in noir and have fun nicknames like "Duke" and "Crazy Larry", suave and intelligent main characters who dress and accessorise as though they're in an editorial spread in GQ while drinking hard liquor and philosophising on their role in life via narration, and incredibly hot chicks who fall for their squinty stares that have come out since Lock, Stock caught people's attention. It's nothing we haven't seen before, a crime thriller that serves as wish fulfillment for the dudes in the audience thinking that if they were a drug dealer, they'd also be that cool.
However, what the film lacks in originality, it makes up in style. Of course, its over-stylised nature and convoluted intertwined plots themselves have become cliché, as they're par for the course for this type of movie (which itself is one of the biggest clichés: the story of a criminal looking for one last big score before giving it all up for good). Vaughn exhibits a real eye for setting up iconic shots, infusing the picture with atmosphere, style, and interesting transitions. It is easy to buy Daniel Craig as the suave, coolly efficient main character, as Vaughn shoots him the whole movie with a Steve McQueen vibe. Throughout the movie, Vaughn eschews Ritchie's more gritty and comedic flare to project slickness. It's all very seductive, creating an eminently watchable genre flick. Even if you don't quite understand what you're watching at times, it remains enjoyable to watch based on how Vaughn sets up his shots.
Unfortunately, Vaughn's creative direction is both a highlight and a detriment of the film. While clearly an exercise in style, in a positive, entertaining sense, Vaughn gets a little too showy with his techniques throughout the movie. Jamming it full of CGI-assisted transitions and flashy shots like looking up through a glass table at our characters. At times, it feels less like a story, and more like Vaughn's resume piece.
The plot holds intrigue and keeps things moving, but as with Vaughn's techniques, it probably twists on itself and complicates matters a bit too much, coming off as unnecessarily dense in a possible attempt to cover up the fact that we've seen all these situations in other movies.
Ultimately, despite its flaws, Layer Cake is still a very entertaining movie that fans of the genre should easily embrace. The supporting cast are all fantastic in their roles, the dialogue is snappy, and the suspense is effective. Newcomer Matthew Vaughn has managed to take a standard issue Brit-gangster flick and fashion a taut and entertaining 105 minutes that signal him a filmmaker to watch in the future.
After the Sunset (2004)
Out of Sight (1998)
Lucky Number Slevin (2006)