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Layer Cake   (released 4/1/2005)
By Neil Norman

Matthew Vaughn once again dishes out the product with Layer Cake, his Directorial debut. Some muckymucks that pull the strings must've thought it was good shit, too, as Vaughn has recently been inked to direct the newest installment in the X-men series. Similar in style to the films he's produced for Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch), Layer Cake is a smart, smooth English crime drama with enough double-crosses to make you wonder what is going to happen next. Screenwriter J.J. Connolly adapts his own novel which showcases the dealings of the British underworld, happening all at once at a breakneck pace just like they might in real life.

When the picture starts we are introduced to Daniel Craig's (Road to Perdition, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) character, an incognito drug lord that runs a cocaine operation. Craig's performance is probably the highlight of this film, in addition to Vaughn's hip, slick directing style. Craig's character is definitely not a two bit hood, but then again neither is he a Kingpin. He disdains the title of "gangster" and considers himself a businessman. Although this title edges close to the realm of crime drama cliché, Craig's steely blue gaze and authoritative delivery convinces the audience that he's the real deal. In fact, he tells us everything we need to know about a life of crime in the beginning voiceover.

Craig's character gets caught up in a bad deal for a million Ecstasy tablets and also is delivered the traditional offer he can't refuse in having to find a daughter of a rival Crime Boss. Even though Craig's character has a plan to retire, he keeps getting sucked in to different situations that spin out of his control.

The acting in this film is superb, with memorable turns being played by Craig in the lead role, Michael Gambon (Sleepy Hollow, Gosford Park, and Harry Potter: the Prisoner of Azkaban) as Eddie Temple, a rival Kingpin, George Harris (Black Hawk Down) as Morty, Craig's right hand man, and Colm Meany of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame as a hardened gangster who works for the Big Boss. I really enjoy the watching a film in my native language that I have to almost translate the dialogue for. When I hear words like cheeky and dodgy, and other English slang, it adds to the realism of the world Vaughn has created for us.

Vaughn does a great job of directing the film in a way that it will both be commercially successful (keeping with the formula like the two predecessors he produced for Ritchie) and help showcase his talent behind the camera. While he still has a few things to learn about story structure and not trying to cram too much into one picture, this film has all the right nuances and stylistic flourishes to gain quite a following. Vaughan strays a bit from the comedic formula followed by Ritchie in the first two films and gives us a straight shot of gangster film. He foreshadows dire things happening to the participants of the various capers but steals our attention away like a magician with deft sleight of hand. In the end you almost stop trying to figure out what is going to happen as the double-crosses are coming so quickly. Whether this is a good or a bad thing, it's up to you. I think it helps solidify the reality of the world of the film. In the real world crime game, stuff just happens all at once, it isn't spelled out. The detractors of this film who cry "there's too much going on" or "there's too many plot threads" are just looking for an easy fix. Vaughn is loathe to deliver this easy fix: instead he deals us the real shit, giving us a busy, smooth and sophisticated crime drama. If you like hip gangster films such as Snatch, Reservoir Dogs, and Things to do in Denver While You're Dead, then give Vaughn and his Layer Cake a try. He's sure to be a talent to watch in the future.

Neil Norman is a freelance writer and a graduate of the University of Central Florida. Neil also works on independent film productions.

Layer Cake plays Saturday, April 9, 2005 at 7:00pm at Enzian Theater.

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