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Layer Cake (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director/writer commentary. Alternate endings. National Film Theatre Q&A session. Making of. Deleted scenes. Music video. Weblink.

HAVING produced the likes of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, it almost seems logical that Matthew Vaughn should opt for another British gangster movie to make his directorial debut.

What's surprising, however, is just how slick, accomplished and downright worthy an entry into the crime genre that Layer Cake is.

The film isn't content to follow in Lock, Stock's loud, bloody footsteps, opting instead for a more cinematic approach, which sources Michael Mann and Brian De Palma for much of its inspiration.

That's not to say there aren't Cockney gunmen running around shouting obscenities at every opportunity, but they are kept to a minimum.

To the fore, instead, is the multi-layered facets of JJ Connolly's ultra-complex crime novel, which finds Daniel Craig's nameless London coke dealer looking to go straight, only to find himself being pulled deeper and deeper into the murky underworld in which he operates.

First off, he must negotiate a deal for a million stolen ecstasy tablets, on behalf of Kenneth Cranham's unstable crime lord, and then find the drug-addicted daughter of said boss' friend.

Yet each task comes complete with complications, most notably in the form of some vengeance-seeking Eastern European gangsters, who want to kill anyone connected with the original theft of the ecstasy tablets, and from Michael Gambon's rival crime-lord, who wants in on the action.

Craig is therefore forced to become a player, rather than the middle-man he has always been content to remain, even if this means getting his hands dirty into the bargain.

And while the premise may sound a little familiar, it's the execution of proceedings that makes Layer Cake so noteworthy.

Vaughn opts for story and characterisation above visual gimmickery and mindless violence, keeping things lively and interesting even when the many convoluted strands of the plot threaten to spiral out of control.

There are violent moments, including a particularly vicious beating set against Duran Duran's Ordinary World, but it's in keeping with the tone of the movie, and never feels as gratuitous as it sometimes does in Guy Ritchie's movies.

All of which means that his actors are given the space to breathe.

In Craig, especially, the film has a terrific leading man, someone to carry viewers through proceedings with an easy-going charisma that expertly balances the fear of his predicament with a growing sense of confidence as a dealer.

While a strong support cast, including Gambon, Cranham and the ever-excellent Colm Meaney, also adds extra weight to proceedings, so that the verbal confrontations leave as much of an impression.

Yet Layer Cake, as a whole, is an extremely accomplished affair that not only marks a terrific directorial debut for Vaughn, but which provides Craig with the multi-plex friendly central role that he has long deserved.

Crime fans should certainly make sure they get a slice of the action.

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