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LAYER CAKE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Daniel Craig, Colm Meaney, Kenneth Cranham, George Harris, Jamie Forman, Sienna Miller, Michael Gambon
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Sony Home Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 106 Minutes
Release Date: August 23, 2005

“You’re a smart boy, but you keep really bad company.”

Film ***1/2

Here is a bravura piece that has restored my faith in the genre. Matthew Vaughn, the producer of Guy Ritchie’s superb British gangster flicks, Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, has delivered the most satisfying and original crime thriller in quite some time with Layer Cake. It may just be Britain’s equal to Scorsese’s GoodFellas and Casino.

Rather than present the traditional rise and fall scenario that accompanies a lot of gangster movies, Layer Cake takes its criminal characters and places them in a hair-raising and extremely convoluted plot that unfolds with sharp twists and turns. The “layer” in the title has significant meaning, because the film seems to have many layers as minutes go by. If you have any hint as to where this film is going, you deserve to be branded a genius.

The film pays homage to Scorsese’s films by giving us key voice over narration by the lead character, a middleman drug supplier with no name (Daniel Craig, in a superb performance), or as the credits label him, XXXX. He’s a man that doesn’t consider himself a gangster, but simply a businessman who gives the people what they want, and believes that keeping a low profile is a much better way of handling business rather than being a hotheaded gangster wannabe. Talk about a most original character.

Mr. X operates under the watchful eye of longtime associate, Gene (Colm Meaney), who’s kind enough but will beat you to a pulp to get some information. He also has his back guarded by Morty (George Harris) and Terry (Tamer Hansen). His business rules consist of knowing your customers, paying your associates/expenses and never, under any circumstances, get too greedy.

But Mr. X’s business ethics and plans of retiring early while he’s ahead are about to be sorely challenged. He is summoned by his boss, Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham), to sort out a deal involving ecstasy pills that went bad, really bad. In addition, he is asked to locate the missing daughter of high level boss Eddie Temple (Michael Gambon).

At first, X accepts the two tasks with simple reluctance, but as facts are discovered in both the horrid ecstasy deal and the daughter’s disappearance, he learns of details which have him scratching his head with bewilderment. After a surprise meeting with Jimmy’s boss, X learns of an unthinkable betrayal which will cause the once calm drug supplier to go to extreme lengths in order to protect his existence.

Added to this, the incident involving the ecstasy pills turns out to have bigger catch than one in the drug business could ever hope for. It turns out the pills, hijacked by members linked to Mr. X, belonged to a Serbian group that just happens to be wanted for high level crimes against humanities. The Serbs, in turn, have dispatched a hit man named “Dragan” after them. And Dragan has a talent for lopping heads off and freezing them in a cooler.

And the surprises only grow from there. It may look and sound as though I have revealed way too much plot, but truth be told, I’ve only revealed about half the events in the movie. There is truly a lot going on here, so much to the point that if you look away for a second, you may be somewhat lost when your eyes and focus return to the screen.

I actually had to watch the movie twice before I completely got the gist of every bit of plot action. That’s how extraordinarily convoluted. But even if that wasn’t the case, the film’s audaciousness made me want to revisit it instantly.

If you’re expecting something along the lines of the Guy Ritchie films, you’ll like what you get but it won’t be anything like you expected. This film is much more brutal in its violence and less keen on the razor sharp comedy that made Snatch the movie it was. It’s clear that Vaughn didn’t want a retread of the two movies he previously produced.

Vaughn, who adapted the screenplay from the novel by J.J. Connolly, has made a much more darker British crime thriller with slight bits of humor that don’t overshadow the brutality. And just like Scorsese, he boasts an incredible soundtrack to go along. You won’t ever be able to hear Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World” again in the same way after you hear it in this movie.

Layer Cake is an immensely entertaining and wonderfully bizarre crime thriller that does nothing short of re-inventing the gangster movie. Credit writer/director Vaughn for doing something new to a genre that needed it, and to a marvelous ensemble cast who are each at the dirty, dirty best.

Video ****

Sony has whipped up a marvelous and outstanding looking disc. The anamorphic picture is stunning in delivering effective visual power to this wide-lens film. Image quality is strong all the way through, with endless clarity and all around detail, with knockout colors, in addition. The underworld never looked more engaging! You will definitely want to choose this over the Full Screen disc, as you will no doubt lose a great deal of effect with the latter choice.

Audio ****

The 5.1 mix delivers strongly in all the areas a great DVD presentation should excel in. Every element, from dialogue delivery to occasional gunfire, to a strong sound performance on the part of music, is delivered to the channels in superb, dynamic form. A fine presentation, courtesy of Sony.

Features ***1/2

Some nice “layers”, if you will, for this Special Edition release. Included is a commentary track with Matthew Vaughn and novelist J.J. Connolly, as well as 14 Deleted Scenes with optional commentary, 2 Alternate Endings with optional commentary. There’s also 2 well made featurettes; “The Making of Layer Cake” and “A Q&A with Matthew Vaughn and Daniel Craig”, as well as several bonus previews.

Summary:

If you think the gangster flick has no more originality left in it, you will definitely want to check out Layer Cake. It’s a superbly entertaining addition to the genre, with many surprises awaiting in the layers.

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