Layer Cake

Year: 2005
Director: Matthew Vaughan
Cast: Daniel Craig, Sienna Miller, Colm Meaney, Michael Gambon
The reason Guy Ritchie's early films worked so well was because of a very unique British touch. This was a guy who - if he hadn't grown up among the salty, rhyming-slang gangsters of London's East End, had done enough research and had a good enough imagination to make us think he did.

Where an American movie would have been all girls, guns and Goodfellas glamour, Ritchie dealt the repeated blows in both Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch with subtlety and finesse. Cracked open heads, murder, gang bashing and petty theft were dealt with in an off-the-cuff manner as cool as a bloke coming up to you in a Soho market square saying 'genuine Rolex, Guv?'

Layer Cake has the same pedigree. Adapted by J J Connolly from his own novel, director Vaughan was Guy Ritchie's producer in those days, and fans of Lock, Stock and Snatch will expect it to show.

Of course, Ritchie went on to marry Madonna and cast her in the almost universally hated Swept Away, 2002's answer to Gigli, the film so savaged by critics and audiences it became famous just for how bad it was.

Ritchie has a new film in development, but at the moment Vaughan is the last hope to successfully revive this very specialised and delicate genre.

The protagonist remains unnamed throughout the whole film, identified during the end credits as XXXX. Unless you've been taking special notice, you don't even realise we haven't been told his name, so there doesn't seem much point in it as a cinematic device.

But he starts off giving us the rundown on a smooth, efficient, trouble-free cocaine distribution operation, doing the bidding for his shadowy overlords, maintaining his network, protecting himself from dirty money, the law and the rabble who end up with his product.

It all goes pear shaped when Jimmy, the profane kingpin at the top of the food chain, asks for a favour to find the drug-addled daughter of a close friend.

Little is what it seems however, and Vaughan & Co launch us into a free for all of plot twists involving the hero, Jimmy, Jimmy's ruthless but lovable right hand man Gene (Meaney), associate Morty, a thug gang stuck with a truckload of E's and the fearsome Slav dealers on its trail. He must track down the none too subtle dealer that's ended up with the pills, find the girl, lap up the advances of yet another girl, and keep out of the way of Scotland yard and his own employers.

Twist is heaped upon turn and in the last few minutes it all comes on a bit thick, Vaughan and Connolly desperate to extract every possible shock from the script.

It's played well by all involved, especially seasoned pros like Michael Gambon, but lacks the razor-edge cool Ritchie embodied, possibly in order to appeal to a wider audience.

Surrounded by so many larger than life characters, Craig is content to sit in the middle and not do too much work. Whether he has little charisma or just doesn't use it isn't clear, but a leading man with a little more colour would have helped.

But if you like your stories bent, your characterisations off the wall (even though you'll be straining to understand some of the accents) and a particular air of stylish grit, you'll enjoy Layer Cake.

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