Layer Cake (2004)

*. Matthew Vaughn’s directing debut, though it’s nothing new. He’d produced Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, two films that launched (I won’t say invented) the hip genre of neo-BritCrime. Layer Cake is more of the same: an ensemble cast of fast-talking oddballs with tribal nicknames, clever but brutal violence mixed with humour, hopelessly convoluted plot, an editing style that trips over itself in its seeming rush to get somewhere, and the dialogue of players who all seem to be aware they’re in a gangster movie.
*. I hate dragging Tarantino back into this, but where would the modern gangster movie be without him? Aren’t they all pigs of his sow?

*. If there’s an evolution or trajectory we could track in Vaughn’s limited body of work it’s a progression toward ever greater silliness. It’s not that Vaughn is necessarily more inclined toward comedy than Ritchie, but his comic sense is broader. I think of Layer Cake as a sort of halfway house in Vaughn’s brand of BritCrime that would eventually end up in the farce of Kingsman: The Secret Service. His fascination with the British class system is also more developed here, and would be even more so in that later movie.
*. Daniel Craig and Tom Hardy before they were stars. Though Hardy is mostly invisible. I couldn’t even recall if he had any lines. (On a re-watch I caught a few, but they’re short and not essential.) As for Craig, his flinty shade of suave landed him the gig as James Bond. I remember not being thrilled when I first heard that he’d be playing Bond but watching him here I can see how he would have ticked a lot of boxes. You can dress him up in the role, and undress him too.
*. Sienna Miller’s role is one of the most gratuitous female roles ever. What is she doing here aside from being a bowl of eye candy? She’s not even a moll. Her one big scene is played as a comic coitus interruptus. I couldn’t remember her character’s name even after watching the movie twice.

*. I guess Layer Cake is enjoyable enough while it lasts, it’s very well shot and some of the performances are first rate (Colm Meaney as usual, but also a scene-stealing turn by Stephen Walters as Shanks). There’s no point even discussing the plot, which is one of those collapsible constructions that is complicated just for the sake of being complicated and whose component parts don’t always add up. You expect lots of twists and you get twists and I have to say that all the twists except the final one were exactly the ones I expected.

*. As for that final twist, Sidney’s revenge, I found it silly. The studio actually made Vaughn shoot a couple of alternative endings that are included with the DVD. I would have preferred the second, which leaves us with Sidney in pursuit. Given that the ending we have is open-ended enough to allow for a sequel I don’t see how that would have compromised whatever integrity the finished product has.
*. I can’t think of much more to say about this one. I listened to the DVD commentary with Vaugh and screenwriter J. J. Connolly and didn’t make a single note on anything they said, which is unusual. I didn’t think it was a bad commentary. It was fun to listen to, but it didn’t seem like they had much to say about the production or any of their creative decisions. Maybe there isn’t much to say. I can’t think of anything.

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