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2005-05-28 08:00:41 (link)
Layer Cake - Review

“Layer Cake” marks the directorial debut of Matthew Vaughn, who produced Guy Ritchie movies “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch.” With that in mind, it would be tempting to regard the new movie strictly in terms of how it compares to Ritchie’s pre-Madonna work. But with its understated smoothness and effortlessly incorporated humor and twists, “Layer Cake” develops into a quirky crime offering that is far more secure and consistent than Ritchie’s work, and into very cool popcorn fare for the early summer.

Based on the novel by J.J. Connolly, and adapted by the author himself, the movie centers around an unnamed cocaine dealer (Daniel Craig, “Sylvia”) with an eye on early retirement and some specific rules about working in the drug trade. He keeps a low profile and minimal contacts. He never carries a gun and maintains a very small coterie of trusted partners. But when his supplier forces him to handle a series of abnormal tasks, including locating a runaway girl and managing a bulk sale of ecstasy, the protagonist finds himself out of his element and in increasingly imminent danger.

What separates Vaughn’s virgin effort from Ritchie’s inventive and enjoyable, but often aggravating work is the understanding that nothing complements complexity nearly as well as a generous dose of simplicity. For all the twists and humor that permeate “Layer Cake,” most of it seems to emerge organically as the plot move forward. The clever nooks and crannies of the story are plot points, not overwrought detours. This, along with the narrative’s decisive detachment from any unnecessary attention to emotion, helps maintain a refreshingly straightforward delivery of a fairly intricate tale.

Throughout, Vaughn helms the movie confidently, with a pleasantly breezy pace to match Connolly’s equally crisp script. His fluidly moving camera and slick editing provide a bit of flash, but not an excess of style. By keeping the visuals engaging without overdoing the glamour of the criminals, the movie convincingly lends development and depth to its gallery of characters. This allows the movie to make effective use of a C-list supporting cast that ranges from Colm Meaney of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fame to Sienna Miller of short-lived “Keen Eddie” fame.

But the lynchpin of the movie’s success is Craig’s handling of the lead role. The character is so shrouded by nature that the movie must keep the details of his life and background equally shrouded. As such, the character becomes largely defined by the performance of the actor playing it. With that opportunity, Craig inhabits the role with unflinching cool. While it is still uncertain who will be the next actor to play James Bond, Craig’s performance here leaves no question that he is the man for the job.

In the meantime, we have a gem of a performance to savor from him. From his smooth stride and quiet, matter-of-fact bravado to the hints of fallibility and silliness they belie, Craig defines everything that works about the movie. “Layer Cake” may be too modest to be a classic and too flashy to avoid Ritchie comparisons, but with it, Vaughn has put forth an admirable debut. And more to the point, he’s brought about one of the most entertaining and worthwhile movies to hit American screens this year, and a delightful popcorn start to the summer for those who prefer human rogues to intergalactic ones.

by Amos Posner

Official Layer Cake Website


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