Layer Cake

Layer Cake

2005, R, 105 min. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Starring Daniel Craig, Colm Meaney, Kenneth Cranham, George Harris, Jamie Foreman, Sienna Miller, Michael Gambon, Tamer Hassan.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 3, 2005

If Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was the cinematic equivalent of his native England’s Britpop movement, and his Snatch paralleled Tony Blair’s Cool Britannia marketing scheme, then Layer Cake, directed by Ritchie’s longtime producer Vaughn, is an ultracool ricochet backward to the swinging era of Carnaby Street and any number of exquisite King's Cross clothiers. A contemporary gangster film that both looks and feels like a Britnoir classic filtered through the Jam’s bang-on sense of style, Layer Cake forgoes Ritchie’s Byzantine plotting and bad-lads-on-holiday stylistics in favor of a more realistic approach to Britain’s criminal underclass. The layer cake of the title, of course, refers to that selfsame underworld’s class system, which mirrors the whole of U.K. society. Craig plays Layer Cake’s unnamed protagonist, a charmingly smooth drug runner who has decided to opt out of what he quite accurately views as an increasingly hazardous profession. As befits a character who belongs to one of the lower layers of this particular confection, his planned exit runs into opposition from all corners, including top dog Eddie Temple (a perfectly sinister Gambon), middleman pal Gene (Meaney), and violence-prone partner Monty (Harris). Add to this a cache of ecstasy pills stolen by bottom-feeding wannabe gangster Duke (Foreman) from a bloodthirsty Serbian assassin, plus the requisite femme fatale (Miller), and you’ve got all the makings of a ludicrously entertaining debut that echoes Ritchie’s own bullet-riddled and laddish outings without ever actually stooping to their juvie-surreal level. It’s a gangster film for adults, or at least those adults who can detect the difference between Saville Row and Merc. Craig, last seen stateside as Ted Hughes to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Sylvia (Plath), is a revelation here, all smooth edges and tough-guy panache. "I hate guns," he offers at one point, only to fixate moments later on a vintage Luger, the essence of small-arms cool and a triumph of World War I-era German design. Craig’s character’s business dictum – exist beneath the radar, move quickly, never get greedy – is in its own way as flawless as that handgun’s 9mm parabellum cartridge, although like certain firearms in the film, it tends to jam when he least expects it. Adapted from his novel by J.J. Connolly, Layer Cake is suffused with a stately sense of menace and a sort of doomed existential suave. As in Ritchie’s gangster outings, a perfectly chosen selection of pop songs ranging from the Cult’s "She Sells Sanctuary" to the Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter" play musical counterpoint to the action unfolding onscreen, but Layer Cake, for all the obvious debts it owes to both classic British thrillers and Ritchie’s more recent derivatives, never feels stale. It’s a consistently more mature and grounded work than most recent Britnoir knockoffs (24 Hours in London, for example) that still retains the scruffy street smarts that once made Vaughn the ideal producer for Ritchie’s winning but slapdash forays into cartoonish King’s Cross thuggery.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Matthew Vaughn Films
Kingsman: The Golden Circle
The bloody spy series returns

Steve Davis, Sept. 22, 2017

Kingsman: The Secret Service
This comic-book riff on James Bond films finds fun amid the ultraviolence.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Feb. 13, 2015

More by Marc Savlov
Gary Kent Is One of the Last of the Dangerous Men
Gary Kent Is One of the Last of the Dangerous Men
New documentary Love and Other Stunts catches the daredevil legend in action

June 1, 2018

How to Talk to Girls at Parties
Neil Gaiman's short story gets an inessential musical makeover.

June 1, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Layer Cake, Matthew Vaughn, Daniel Craig, Colm Meaney, Kenneth Cranham, George Harris, Jamie Foreman, Sienna Miller, Michael Gambon, Tamer Hassan

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2018

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle