Friday, September 17, 2010

“You better not let the other guns know you have a favorite.”

Matthew Vaughan is really a director on the rise and a name to watch and he’s proving himself to be quite flexible. Consider this: He has directed three films so far: The crime thriller Layer Cake (2004), the fantasy Stardust (2007) and superhero film Kick-Ass (2010) (and he was the producer of Snatch. and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels). Today we’re looking at Layer Cake, his directorial debut.

So we’re in London and have Mr. XXXX (Daniel Craig) as our anti-hero and narrator. He sees himself as a professional businessman who’s business is cocaine (and other drugs). Now, he’s got a system worked out that has so far let him make a lot of money and stay under the radar, and he plans on getting out of the game. Unfortunately, one of his biggest customers, the mobster Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham) has two last jobs for him. The first involves finding the coked out daughter of Jimmy’s crime boss friend Eddie Temple (longtime veteran Michael Gambon who’s been Dumbledore in the more recent Harry Potter films). The second involves finding a buyer for a large number of pills smuggled into England by a scummy drug dealer called the Duke (Jamie Foreman). Of course neither of these jobs go as planned and things just spiral out of control for Mr. XXXX and his associates.

The cast in this is incredible. Craig is a charismatic and dominant central figure, but the secondary characters really help flesh out the seedy underbelly of London here. XXXX’s associates, in particular Morty (George Harris) and Gene (Colm “Engineer O’Brien” Meaney), are quite badass, but there’s a hell of a lot of characters and they’ve all got something about them that makes them stand out. Oh, and there’s also Sienna Miller as XXXX’s love interest Tammy, but despite having secondary billing on the DVD case, is only in the film for all of four scenes. But she does look fine in those scenes.

Director: Matthew Vaughan. Director of Photography: Ben Davis. Visually the movie is great. Scenes are great, there’s great use of color and the film has a lot of energy and tension that carry you through. Action scenes aren’t common, so when violence actually does occur it’s often quick and incredibly brutal, like the beating in the diner shot from the victim’s point of view. Powerful stuff. The movie also handles transitions incredibly well too.

Screenplay by J.J. Connolly and based on his own novel of the same name. The script is incredibly impressive. Characters are well defined, have arcs, frequently likable (or at least interesting) and the pacing is spot on. Twists come out of nowhere but they all make sense in retrospect and by the end of the movie, all loose ends are accounted for.

Original music by Ilan Eshkeri and Lisa Gerrard, which is good, and it’s also got a very good soundtrack featuring stuff from the likes of Joe Cocker, The Rolling Stones, The Cult and even Duran Duran.

I was thoroughly impressed. I mean, really, really impressed. Every fault I had with Snatch. (and I had quite a few) is absent in Layer Cake. In fact, that’s kind of how I want to describe this movie to people who’ve never heard of it. “It’s like Snatch, only with character development and substance.” Extremely recommended and a contender for my “Best Surprises” list.

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