Layer Cake (2004) – Film Review

Layer Cake PosterLayer Cake

Starring Daniel Craig, George Harris, Colm Meaney, Jamie Foreman, Sienna Miller, Michael Gambon, Tom Hardy

Directed by Matthew Vaughn, based on the novel Layer Cake by J.J. Connolly

IMDB Rating: 7.4

A Royal British knees-up this is not. Certain films have painted a picture about what this style of film should be but let me tell you, this is definitely not ‘just another British crime film’.

Daniel Craig plays a successful cocaine dealer living in the suave area of London and planning an early retirement from the game. However, on the eve of his get-out he is given what seems a simple enough job, track down the estranged daughter of Drug King Eddie Temple (Gambon). While on the job, he and his crew get dragged into a manhunt after being linked to small-time gangster Duke (Foreman), who has stolen millions of pounds worth of ecstasy off Serbian drug-lords who are on their way to London for their heads.

This is an excellent story by J.J. Connolly that stretches far past my plot description, and is perhaps one of the best I’ve ever seen in a crime film. It is worth noting that not only did Connolly write the book this is based on, but wrote the screenplay for the movie too, and it definitely shows. This is a film filled with twists, turns and sub-plots that would rival many dramas that grace Hollywood screens in this day. As you would expect, this film is strewn with stereotypical British characters, however these characters feel a lot less stereotypical than usual. This can be seen both ways – some would argue that going away from the usual British-cockney makes for a more universally believable story, and that book was probably written without the British movie stereotype in mind. However, I think that it’s that renowned London slang that sells movies like this, and if Layer Cake could have had some of that magic along with the compelling story, then this could have been huge.

This role for Daniel Craig is not that far away from his current career as James Bond – albeit this character is perhaps less aggressive but more threatening. He’s a very good lead in this film, delivering a performance not unlike his 007 films. The only thing wrong with him here is that he’s not the slightest bit threatening – that might be down to the character who is not violent and keeps himself out of criminal activity, but there are points where it feels like he should be even slightly scary and he isn’t. Colm Meany is an actor I have huge respect for, and he is very cool and clever in this film, showing his experience alongside George Harris. For someone born in London, Tom Hardy’s accent seemed completely off in this film. His voice was just uncomfortable, like an American trying but not really believing in it. His general acting was okay and up to everyone else’s standard, but that accent was just weird.

The directing by Matthew Vaughn in this film was pretty good. Much of it was fairly common, especially in British crime films, but there was the odd bit here and there that was very imaginative, outside the norm, and that’s what catches my eye above anything. Also the way he shot the action scenes was very clever, everything from the camera movement to the audio was very well thought of. On that note, I loved the noughties/late 90’s soundtrack that accompanied this film, being born in ’94 it reminded me a lot of my childhood!

Before seeing this I was a bit apprehensive, with Snatch. being my favourite British crime film bar-none I immediately thought this would be stuck in its shadow. However Layer Cake hasn’t tried to be the crime-comedy that Snatch. was, but has gone down a much more serious, plot based route, and by-god has it worked. I was really drawn into the story, much down to the work by J.J. Connolly and Matthew Vaughn. The characters could have maybe been a bit more interesting in their own right, and the argument’s still out over the whole stereotypical Brit and whether it would have worked, but even without that this is definitely the most intelligent British crime film I’ve ever seen, and is definitely worth a look even if you’re not a fan of the style.

Read our review of Snatch. here

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