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Layer Cake (2004)

Directed by:

Matthew Vaughn

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 105 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

Country: United Kingdom

While doing the promo rounds for directorial debut ‘Layer Cake’, Matthew Vaughn has seemed keen to point out that this is NOT a gangster film. He’s even got his lead character, played by Daniel Craig, saying it in one of the very first scenes. “I’m not a gangster,” he tells us. “I’m a businessman whose commodity happens to be cocaine.” Yeah, right. If this isn’t a gangster film, I’m Bob Hoskins. And despite the receding hairline and gradually stretching waistband, I’m NOT Bob Hoskins.

Of course, it’s not too hard to work out what Vaughn’s game is. He’s trying to distance himself and his product from the inevitable comparison with the works of cheeky Mockney mate Guy Ritchie. Vaughn was a co-producer on Ritchie’s two biggest hits – Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch – and he also worked alongside him on Mean Machine. Hell, let’s not beat around the bush here – the guy was best man at Ritchie’s wedding. So you can’t help but think he’s fighting a bit of an uphill battle if he doesn’t want anyone to bring up his pal’s name when discussing this new film.

Still, if Vaughn REALLY wanted to avoid such comparisons, he could always have brought out something other than a crime-drama about a bunch of inter-twined Londoners who deal drugs, carry “shooters”, and jam each others’ heads in sunbed lids. ‘Layer Cake’ has all that, plus ‘Lock, Stock’ alumni Dexter Fletcher, plus a quirky, at-times overly-stylish directorial approach which could only be described as Ritchie-esque.

So originality isn’t one of its strong points, then. However, what the film does boast is a cracking performance from Craig, as the smooth pill-pusher who winds up in over his head with some bigger boys just when it’s looking like he’s going to be able to head off into the sunset and retire. It also has a couple of extremely memorable scenes – one of which is an eye-popping act of thuggery inside a greasy spoon, and the other is the shocking, memorable ending. Round those good points off with a cleverly-selected soundtrack (The Cult, the Rolling Stones and Duran Duran are among those providing a classy, imaginative musical backdrop) and you’ve got the spine, at least, of a very good film.

What it does lack is the humour Ritchie normally uses to pepper his films (a few instances of comic relief would have helped it go down), and writer J.J. Connolly (who adapted the screenplay from his own novel of the same name) could really have done with being a little more selective with the parts he left in. But, all in all, ‘Layer Cake’ gave me hope that, after several years of generic disappointment, there could still be life in the British gangster flick yet (and yes, Matthew, that IS what this is!).

It's Got: A shell-suit clad drugsmith called “The Duke”, who looks like a bizarre cross between Stan Boardman and David Essex.

It Needs: A few more laughs, and a few less minutes.

Summary

Make sure you grab a slice of the cake.

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