Layer Cake (2004) Directed by Matthew Vaughn. With Daniel Craig, Kenneth Cranham, George Harris, Colm Meaney, Burn Gorman, Sally Hawkins, Sienna Miller, Jamie Foreman and Michael Gambon.
Anyone familiar with Guy Ritchie’s guns n’ geezers films, can have a reasonably good idea of what to expect from Matthew Vaughn’s debut offering, Layer Cake. Adapted by J.J Connolly from his own novel of the same name, the film stars Daniel Craig as a successful cocaine dealer, intent on tying up loose ends and “quitting while he’s ahead” – only, there’s one last job…isn’t there always!?
While it can’t escape its kinship with the likes of Snatch and Lock Stock, Vaughn applies a glossier finish to his film, which is rubber-stamped by the casting of a smooth-talking Daniel Craig in the central role. This is a pre-Bond Craig, although it could easily be viewed as the audition that landed him the iconic 007 role. Although his character is guilty of serious crimes, he is a loose-fit in the criminal world; preferring to deal with his customers at arms length while his operation runs efficiently under the radar. Just as he’s getting ready to pack up and call it a day, trouble comes knocking in the form of mob boss, Jimmy (Kenneth Cranham).
What is refreshing about Craig’s character (and the underlying narrative of the piece), is that this isn’t a gangster film about someone pursuing greed. This is about someone recognising the pitfalls of the lifestyle and trying his best to divorce himself from it…only it won’t let him. On paper, it sounds like a recipe ripe for comedy to thrive, although Vaughn never opts to go down that road – keeping his film edgy and focused ahead. The supporting performances are a range of colourful stereotypes and familiar faces. Jamie Foreman, Burn Gorman and Sally Hawkins play a ragtag trio of drug dealers, clearly heading for disaster on one level or another, while Michael Gambon brings a little Godfathery weight to proceedings.
As with Vaughn’s subsequent work on Kick-Ass, the soundtrack choices play a significant role. The Rolling Stones’ Gimmie Shelter will add a certain va-va-voom to any seduction scene while Duran Duran’s Ordinary World and The Cult’s She Sells Sanctuary are also given generous airtime. In a sense, using such instantly recognisable music is employing the exact same method of impact-through-music that your average Manhattan-set chick-flick aims for.
Amid graphic shows of violence, sex appeal and mountains of drugs and cash – this isn’t a film that is in any way trying to glamorise the world it depicts. The contrary, it’s message is loud and clear – the personal, physical and psychological cost of being involved in organised crime vastly outweighs the dubious financial gains. With that, Layer Cake is yet another confidently made British gangster film. 3.5/5