Layer Cake


Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Layer Cake
"Layer Cake takes itself more seriously and is miles above anything on Guy Ritchie’s resume."

When Guy Ritchie passed on British gangster thriller Layer Cake, more than a few eyebrows were raised when producing-buddy Matthew Vaughn stepped in. Having produced on Ritchie flicks Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, Vaughn decided it was time he tried the director’s chair out for size himself. However, despite purposefully avoiding any “funny bits” in the promotional reel, the general assumption was that this would be another Ritchie-esque geezer gangster romp with a penchant for the colour yellow.

Importantly, Vaughn’s debut is cut from a different cloth. Though containing drug dealers, multiple plot-twists, unforeseen betrayals and gangsters with colourful nicknames, Layer Cake takes itself more seriously and is miles above anything on Ritchie's resume. Based on J J Connolly’s novel with help from the author, the story focuses on XXXX (Daniel Craig), a smart cocaine dealer about to turn his back on the drug trade when he is asked by his boss Jimmy Price (Kenneth Crantham) to do a few jobs. When it turns out that Jimmy has framed him with gang boss Eddie Temple (Michael Gambon) and that the pills he was asked to distribute belong to Serbian mobsters, XXXX’s world slowly starts to unravel.

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The dense-plotting and ‘hero struggling to stay in control’ angle make it more akin to The Long Good Friday and Carlito’s Way than any of Ritchie's in-your-face, Vinnie-Jones-starring romps.

While all this is true, Layer Cake has style to spare. With a moody and atmospheric score from Lisa Gerrard complementing some beautifully-aesthetic camera work, the feel is more restrained and introspective than it is frenetic and loud. As for the songs used, when you have the likes of The Cult’s She Sells Sanctuary and Scorsese’s favourite Rolling Stones effort Gimme Shelter (which actually fits better here) littering your movie, you know its going to be a hell of a soundtrack.

In the lead, Craig anchors the movie with a star-making turn. Though the smart suits, piercing blue eyes and toned physique might imply otherwise, Craig is an actor of impressive calibre who was only a step away from going on to bigger and better things courtesy of a licence to kill. In addition, it’s to his credit that we’re drawn in despite him being given less back-story than your average Steven Segal movie.

Elsewhere, the support is excellent. Colm Meaney is tough but likeable as Irish bulldog Gene, Gambon spouts exposition with the best of them as reptilian bossman Temple and Crantham fills up the swear-jar on his own as the foul-mouthed Price. In other roles Jamie Foreman is hilarious-yet-realistic as loudmouth gangster “The Duke”, George Harris gives a lesson in deadpan humour as the tea-poring Morty (“somebody’s about to get a f**king slap”) and Sienna Miller will have every male viewer’s blood racing. For those wondering, the term ‘layer cake’ is to do with hierarchal social structures and not something she jumps out of.

Though unfairly pigeon-holed as ‘another British gangster movie’, Layer Cake is actually an excellent example of the genre and superior to anything in Ritchie’s stable. In a day and age where we’ve grown up taking more than enough crap mobster flicks, it’s refreshing to be in the rarefied atmosphere of a good one. Welcome to the layer cake, son.

Reviewed on: 07 Apr 2009
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Cockney drug dealer become enmeshed in gang war over stolen happy pills.
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Angus Wolfe Murray **

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Writer: J J Connolly, based on the novel by J J Connolly

Starring: Daniel Craig, Kenneth Cranham, Colm Meaney, Jamie Foreman, Michael Gambon, Dexter Fletcher, Burn Gorman, Tom Hardy, Tamer Hassan, Sally Hawkins, Darren Healy, Nathalie Lunghi, Sienna Miller, Peter Rvic

Year: 2004

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


Sundance 2005

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