Layer Cake blurs the line between Anglophiles and cinephiles, with each group getting its fix. With an innovative and equally ingenuous brand of smarts, this twisty and affluent thriller may prove too enticing for even summer-blockbuster devotees to resist.
''Welcome to the layer cake, son.'' As eloquently but vulgarly described by drug kingpin Eddie Temple (Michael Gambon), the layer cake is a how a criminal makes it to the top of, well, the crime pyramid. In this case, the man who is fighting to get the top of the cake is known simply as ''XXXX,'' which, appropriately, is only revealed when the film's credits roll at the end. Beleaguered-yet-authoritative, XXXX (Daniel Craig), a savvy drug dealer, resides comfortably between the top and middle layers and fancies himself clever to a fault. He holds nothing in higher regard than when a man gets out while at the top of his game. So with his latest and final assignment, he hopes to be catapulted to the top, so he can then leave it all behind. But the assignment--finding and rescuing Eddie Temple's daughter as well as unloading a crap load of stolen Ecstasy pills--turns out to be his biggest challenge to date, truly testing his street smarts. And it will not come without betrayal, deceit and, ultimately, bloodshed. By the end, with one mind-bending twist after another, he'll finally get his cake--and eat it, too.
Daniel Craig is somewhat of an anomaly. It seems as though he could have grabbed leading-man status by now, but instead is much more contented co-starring in critically acclaimed independent films, such as The Mother and Sylvia, or playing bad guys in films like Road to Perdition. But that may change with Layer Cake, which truly showcases his range and certainly will garner him some attention. Even if Craig wants to take a snail's route to leading man land, his impeccable looks and acting will eventually preclude him from toiling in the indie world and compel him to move over to the mainstream--or at least give him the option. And it may be happening already since Craig appears to be the frontrunner to succeed Pierce Brosnan as the next James Bond. The rest of Layer Cake's cast of colorful characters complement Craig's stellar performance, including Colm
Meaney and George Harris as XXXX's tough henchman, as well as the affably sinister Gambon as his adversary. Still, its hard not to take your eyes off Craig whenever he is on screen.
''But what I really want to do is direct!'' This is probably what first-time director Matthew
Vaughn has been saying all along. Vaughn has been making his way into the biz mostly in the producing arena, heading up pal Guy Ritchie's films, including Lock, Stock and
Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. But with Layer Cake, he has proven he is more than competent taking over as the auteur. Although the film is obviously heavily influenced by his association with Ritchie, it looks like Vaughn may have done his friend one better, taking the gangster premise and reviving it by giving it the proper fast-paced British treatment. Scattered throughout is perfectly placed comic relief and profound lines, each of which is accentuated to a tee by Vaughn's apparent penchant for style. Although he shows just the right amount of restraint, Vaughn makes almost every scene, even those which would otherwise be mundane, engrossing. Layer Cake is truly an achievement for a directorial debut, and Matthew has received a well-deserved graduation gift as a result, as he gets ready to direct the next X-Men film. Nice job, Matt.
Although Layer Cake might have trouble going up against summer behemoths like Revenge of the Sith and War of the Worlds, its buzz has been justified in a way buzz rarely is. It's a soulful, quick-witted thriller that gets it right.