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Layer Cake (2004)

by The Movie Diorama

Layer Cake energises London with an overstuffed yet vigorous gangster-driven story. “The art of good business is being a good middleman”. XXXX. An anonymous criminal that has nothing to do with Diesel’s high-octane spy shenanigans (xXx reference if you didn’t get it…). A professional London cocaine distributor, narrating the tainted drug industry as if addicted himself. “Good times today, stupor tomorrow”. Signifying the rise in recreational demand, with easy accessibility and affordability in the coming years. XXXX refuses to view himself as a gangster. Only a businessman. Reporting to a ruthless mob boss for two final tasks: track down an associate’s drug addicted daughter, and oversee the purchase of one million ecstasy tablets. Taking a valorous step into the social hierarchy of the criminal underworld. The layer cake.

Vaughn’s punchy directorial debut can often be mistaken for an early Ritchie flick. With ‘Snatch’ and ‘Lock, Stock’ being clear inspirations for the feature’s execution. And, let’s face it, you wouldn’t be incorrect. But that shouldn’t be perceived as a detriment, as even the greats must source expression from somewhere. Vaughn consumes the narrative structure and memorable characterisation that Ritchie perfected, and injects his own vibrant synergy into the film. Think of it as low-fuelled heroin. From the café brawl, which is undoubtedly one of my favourite POV shots of all-time, to the betrayal revelation on top of a chaotically mid-constructed building.

Vaughn’s flavoursome vitality intelligently encompasses the surrounding mayhem of London, and concentrate its chaos into Connolly’s characters (whom originally wrote the novel too). XXXX maintains a level of professionalism, even during times of desperation. Then you have the intimidating Jimmy Price, the street-wise “Duke”, Eddie “Dumbledore” Temple and many, many others. The “expansive” list of characters was borderline endless, especially during the first half, which seamlessly brings me to my primary criticism with Layer Cake. Characters are introduced in every direction, nearly every five minutes. Well over twenty supporting individuals in just one third! Consequently, this resulted in the story being quashed by the numerous character sub-plots that infiltrated the primary narrative. The hunt for Charlie and the purchase of pills took a backseat position in the initial half, mostly due to the unfocused juggling of entities.

Fortunately the second half, after the revelatory betrayal, the plot becomes far more streamlined. Connolly’s screenplay is brilliant throughout, with a plethora of memorable quotes one could recite daily. However, condensing his own dense novel into a mere hour and forty minutes, proved to be a difficult task with several characters garnering less screen time when really they should’ve been at the forefront. An example? Miller’s Tammy for starters. Acting throughout was decent, with many conversations flowing organically. Various TV actors though were excessively shouting in an attempt to produce a commanding presence, but ultimately fell flat. In saying that, to end the entire ordeal on an ambiguous conclusion, as XXXX contemplates his uncertain fate, definitely created a haunting allurement well after the credits had rolled.

Layer Cake may have more layers than a gangster’s half-eaten wedding cake from CostCo, but remains sweet and filling enough to extinguish that rumbling starvation for Ritchie inspired grit. Although between you and me, this was Craig’s audition tape for James Bond…