Thursday, November 17, 2005

Layer Cake (2004)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

Institutions like Internet Movie Database couldn't exist without films being - directly or indirectly - connected with each other. This feature of modern films sometimes leads to certain titles being remembered less because of their own artistic or commercial value, and more because of their importance for some other film. LAYER CAKE, 2004 British crime drama directed by Matthew Vaughn, is one of such examples. When it was conceived, it was supposed to be just another example of "cool" British gangster films embodied in Guy Ritchie's LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS and SNATCH. Ritchie was slated to direct this one too, but he opted out and left the directing to his producer Matthew Vaughn.

The plot of the film is based on the book by J.J. Connolly. The unnamed protagonist (played by Daniel Craig) is mid-level drug dealer who consider himself to be a businessman rather than gangster. He abhors violence and runs his business with precision and professionalism that filled his bank account enough for him to be only few deals away from retirement. However, destiny thwarts those plans for two directions. His old-style gangster boss Jimmy Price (played by Kenneth Cranham) orders him to find drugged-out runaway daughter of influential businessman Eddie Temple (played by Michael Gambon). While he ponders how to do it, another problems is created by Duke (played by Jamie Foreman), his drugged-out business associate who stole million ecstasy pills from Slavo (played by Marcel Iures), former Serb warlord operating in Amsterdam. Those pills are reason why Slavo sent his merciless and deadly assassin Dragan (played by Dragan Micanovic) to London.

The inevitable comparisons between this and two Ritchie's films make LAYER CAKE more ambitious, more conventional and, in a way, much better (at least compared with overpraised SNATCH). This is due to the plot being based on a book and covering more area than East End underworld. This is immediately seen in the opening when protagonist's narration puts the film's complex plot into much broader economic, political and cultural context. The protagonist itself is different - he repeatedly describes himself as "non-gangster" and his accent, aesthetic taste and behaviour suggests someone from middle class background and some sort of education rather than former street child using crime to escape poverty. LAYER CAKE underlines this impression by confronting protagonist with his old, more experienced and more reliable associates (played by always dependable character actors like Colm Meaney and Daniel Harris) who came from the lower social strata and use certain business methods protagonist doesn't have taste for. The film expands on this theme also by confronting protagonist with those who nominally inhabit the higher strata of British society where the line between business and crime is completely blurred.

LAYER CAKE is visually very impressive and Vaughn appears to be very good first-time director. Film's limited resources are spent wisely - London in this film, embodied in prestigious night clubs, modern skyscrapers and old country clubs appears more attractive, more vibrant and more "hip" than in Ritchie's films. The accompanying music soundtrack, however, often sounds too "hip", but it is less of distraction than completely unnecessary romantic subplot involving protagonist love interest, played by Sienna Miller (a subplot that had certain real-life connotations and helped tabloid circulation in past year). The biggest flaw of the film appears to be the plot of the resolution - the plot itself was too complex and the audience will have to watch film repeatedly to actually figure out what really went on.

Despite this, LAYER CAKE earned its place in history. One image in the film - later used in posters - helped Daniel Craig to get the highly coveted role of next James Bond. However, even those viewers who don't care about James Bond franchise could enjoy LAYER CAKE as accomplished, serious and mostly entertaining British gangster film.

RATING: 6/10 (++)


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