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Overall Rating

Awesome: 32.14%
Worth A Look35.71%
Just Average: 7.14%
Pretty Crappy: 25%
Sucks: 0%

6 reviews, 20 user ratings

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Layer Cake
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by Jay Seaver

"Not many bad spots, but it wears you down."
2 stars

It's not surprising that Daniel Craig's unnamed narrator in Layer Cake wants to get out of the business of drug dealing. After all, he's made his pot, and there's a distressing amount of violence and occupational danger involved, especially when compared to managing the real estate holdings he's invested in. Since there wouldn't be a movie if he peacefully retired to the tropics, he's instead threatened with grievous bodily harm if he doesn't do a crime boss one little favor. From there, things get predictably sticky.

Okay, maybe not entirely predictably; Matthew Vaughn's film has enough twists and turns to keep the audience guessing (or confused). But the way it all happens is familiar by now: Charming but potentially violent guys at the middle level, grey-haired men with purchased respectability to shield their ruthlessness at the top, and idiotic screw-ups at the bottom. Sardonic narration, which in addition to telling the story also gives us the ins and outs of the drug business. Street names that are hard to imagine anyone using in conversation. Quick zooms and rapid-fire cutting, to better fit in about twice as much plot and twice as many characters than a hundred-minute movie really needs.

Yes, it's a Ska film, even if Guy Ritchie isn't directing. And, although I haven't actually seen a new hip movie about British low-lives every month since Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels (which believe it or not was a welcome change from/variation on the Tarantino clones that seemed to be popping up on a weekly basis at the time), it seems that way. It's time for the next fresh new style of crime drama to appear and be imitated.

Ska-fatigue aside, the movie does have its problems, the main one being that it is overstuffed. There's a plotline about having to find a crime boss's wayward daughter (a job Craig's character subcontracts out, adding even more characters and complexity). There's a million pounds worth of stolen ecstasy, which both the supplier and intended buyer want back. There's a killing from twenty years earlier that hasn't been properly avenged. There's the narrator's plans to leave the business, based on his economic theory of how to be a successful drug dealer (be honest with the people who carry guns and stick to the plans, be they long-term or short-term) - which is of course complicated by a girl (Sienna Miller), because there has to be a girl. Otherwise, not only is there little point to all the headaches the characters put themselves through, but the audience is finding homoeroticism everywhere, even where it's not intended.

Because of the sheer number of characters who all work for some criminal organization or other, much of the cast becomes something of a twentysomething male white blur. Fortunately, those guys aren't as important as the rest, who are more distinctive. Craig stands out because we're hearing his voice constantly as the narrator, and because he's in just about every scene; I'll bet screenwriter J.J. Connolly's original novel was first-person. He's a little older than many of the people he works with, and more thoughtful - part of the reason he wants to get out is that he knows that legitimate pharmaceutical companies will see the money to be made, push for legalization, and undercut the criminals' prices. He tends to associate more with the people above him in the hierarchy - Morty (George Harris), a long-time enforcer, and Gene (Colm Meaney), the main assistant to gangster Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham). Harris and Meaney are character actors who have built up noteworthy resumés on both sides of the Atlantic; even folks who don't know Meaney's name will likely recognize him as That Guy in things from Star Trek to The Commitments. Cranham is amusing enough as that enjoyable type, the gangster who has bought his way into the country club but doesn't really belong there, while Michael Gambon is more chilling as the gangster who blends into the upper class quite well, until such time as he has to get mean.

There's not much the good cast can do here, though. The script is too convoluted, and though Vaughn isn't as showy as some of his peers, he's not quite driven to focus on clarity, either. There's a scene early in the movie that flashes "Amsterdam" as a location, but there's never another location specified, meaning this silly American wasn't sure exactly when they returned to the UK - one back alley looks like another, right? And that's just the most egregious example. This is not a solidly constructed movie.

I'd like to enjoy "Layer Cake" more - I'm a little weary of crime, but I still like it a lot when done well. Vaughn and company don't do a lot where you can look at the movie and say "right now, they're screwing up"; but the cumulative effect isn't good, and there are scant great moments to counter that.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11260&reviewer=371
originally posted: 06/27/05 20:58:21
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/18/17 Anne Selby at times boring, karma - Craig shot dead 2 stars
4/12/10 brian Oh look, another gangster movie. *Yawn* 3 stars
7/12/06 Phil M. Aficionado A messy cake without much taste, except bitter one and sour, not too fulfilling 3 stars
5/10/06 chienne Again, just went to see it for Marcel Iures, but god, isn't Craig sensational? 5 stars
2/12/06 Reklc Funny, intriguing, interesting and very british, what more do you need?! 5 stars
2/06/06 tatum Standard crime thriller done with much aplomb 4 stars
12/31/05 Tanya very good loved the ending 4 stars
12/27/05 Steve Newman What an excellent film - made my Christmas viewing (Dec 05!) 5 stars
12/15/05 Gary Budds This film was creative and interesting.Stensland most definitely has poor taste in movies 5 stars
9/29/05 Mac excellent! a must see 5 stars
9/17/05 Dominic Very entertaining film 5 stars
8/22/05 John Bale This cake failed to rise. Starts well but bogs down in over complicated plot 3 stars
8/16/05 Agent Sands FUCKING FANTASTIC. A great severance for a primarily shitty movie year. 5 stars
8/13/05 John Bale Starts with promise but over complex plot and pedestrian direction becomes boring 3 stars
7/10/05 cpbjr execellent 5 stars
7/06/05 Elizabeth Blackey Knew nothing about this movie. What a great surprize - loved it. 5 stars
6/28/05 Jack Sommersby Craig is semi-magnetic, but the film is familiar, slow, and abrasive. 2 stars
6/07/05 Agent Sands I could watch it as many times as I've watched Lock, Stock & Snatch. It's just my type!!! 5 stars
5/16/05 Chris Stephens SEe this movie 5 stars
5/06/05 Marc Basque Terrifically plotted and wonderfully acted 5 stars
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  13-May-2005 (R)
  DVD: 23-Aug-2005



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