Layer Cake (2004) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, pervasive language, sexuality, nudity, and drug use
Running Time: 104 min.
Cast: Daniel Craig, Kenneth Cranham, Michael Chabon, Colm Meaney, Dexter Fletcher, Jamie Foreman, George Harris, Sienna Miller
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay: J.J. Connolly
Adapted by J.J. Connelly from the novel of the same name, Layer Cake was slated to be a Guy Ritchie (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch) project, but instead, the producer of Ritchie's movies, Matthew Vaughn, gives himself the nod as director for the first time. While Vaughn does an admirable job punching up the story with good visual flair, this verbose drama might have proven more engaging if Vaughn could have spiced it up with a few more scenes without talking heads. Not that Layer Cake is a bad film -- it's just a bit on the stagnant side at times. Vaughn emulates Ritchie well during the few action pieces but still has something to learn about keeping momentum during the in-between times.
Layer Cake stars Daniel Craig (Road to Perdition, Lara Croft Tomb Raider) as an unnamed drug dealer looking to put the life of crime behind him, once he's earned enough money to get out of the game for good. It isn't so easy. First, he must nail down a deal to sell some ecstasy pills, while also looking for the daughter of a friend of his boss, Jimmy (Kenneth Cranham, Hellbound: Hellraiser II). However, the more he tries to get out, the more difficult things become, as there are players in the mix with different allegiances and motives that sway his ability to focus on the task, and doubt who to trust.
Solid character actors and a strong performance by Craig in the lead role helps the confrontations stay gritty, and the tone appropriately grim. Unlike Ritchie, Vaughn goes for a more hard-boiled approach, not content to leaven up the seriousness with comic relief. There are some moments of violence, and while it can be somewhat graphic, it always feels in keeping with the nature of the story.
It's a good example of a British crime drama, similar in some ways to The Long Good Friday in tone, but this also means that those with short attention spans will find the intricate plotting and long stretches of conversations a chore to try to follow. Perhaps a more streamlined adaptation of the novel should have been in order, as there does seem to be a few characters and side issues that could have been excised without losing the integrity of the overall story. A good movie was definitely in the making here, and by all appearances, Vaughn definitely had the talent to make it so, but lacked the seasoned insight to alter Connolly's screenplay in ways that would give it more cinematic appeal. A few less layers, and a little more icing, and this one would be more of a treat than it ends up being.
©2005 Vince Leo