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Overall Rating
3.75

Awesome: 32.14%
Worth A Look35.71%
Average: 7.14%
Pretty Bad: 25%
Total Crap: 0%

6 reviews, 20 user ratings


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Layer Cake
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by Robert Flaxman

"Cake or death?"
4 stars

There’s something to be said for flaunting clichés in a film – originality is always welcome. Doing it as self-consciously as Matthew Vaughn does with his film Layer Cake, however, doesn’t really feel clever so much as it does self-important. The film has style to spare, but its insistence on attempting a couple of “different” things makes the whole affair a bit messier than it should have been.

Daniel Craig’s nameless protagonist is a high-rolling drug dealer looking to get out of the business while he’s ahead. Here’s problem number one. Are we supposed to like this guy or aren’t we? Vaughn never seems to directly tip his hand, but it’s hard to argue that XXXX (as the character is named in the closing credits) isn’t the most likable character in the film, despite his flaws.

Vaughn’s major claim to fame previously was his role as producer of Guy Ritchie’s gangster comedies Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. Here he takes a similar narrative approach – a story that starts as several threads that all wind together to a single point as the film progresses – but drains out much of the humor, leaving the proceedings with a more downbeat air. Still, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – just because Ritchie managed to make pretty much the same film twice without either being bad doesn’t mean it’s usually a good idea to stick so closely to a formula.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good idea to break conventions just to say you’ve done so. In particular, Layer Cake falls apart at the end – not only does it simply try to do too much, plot-wise, but its conclusion seems so desperate to be different without actually having a good reason. It certainly isn’t your average ending, but just because something is unexpected doesn’t make it worthwhile.

The question of message is an important one in a film like this, but Layer Cake is all over the map. XXXX has a voice-over monologue to start the film which suggests that there’s nothing so bad about dealing drugs because one day it will all be legal anyway, and he doesn’t engage in the behavior of the more hardened criminals. Vaughn seems to agree, and he has a point here – but he undercuts his own idea by having the plot spin out of control just when XXXX thinks life can’t get any better. XXXX’s inability to have a handle on his own situation while thinking he does could be a subtle attack on what drugs can do to people, it could be Vaughn trying to show how the lifestyle isn’t as glamorous as XXXX first makes it out to be, or it could all be a total coincidence. A scene near the end of the film showing drug production seems to be making an even more direct message about… well, to be honest, it’s hard to be sure whether it’s a grim comment on the robustness of the drug business or one of those “it’s going to happen anyway” endorsements. Vaughn certainly isn’t telling.

The film could be pegged as anti-drug except that the drugs pretty much play the role of the macguffin, and as such there’s little point in commenting on them at all. There’s pretty much nothing in the film that couldn’t happen the same way if XXXX and his associates were gun-runners or smugglers of Swiss watches. If drugs were so central to the film’s message, they would – or at least should – be more indispensable to the plot, but instead they’re largely peripheral.

Besides that, there’s the argument that Vaughn directs with too much flair to be hammering home any sort of message – certainly not one that paints every character in his film in a negative light. Layer Cake is stylishly executed with a thumping techno-pop score, skillful camera movements and occasional bits of humor; it’s so slick it’s impossible to dislike, but that works against the idea of any real morality slipping in and so negates much of the last twenty minutes. No one’s going to watch Layer Cake thinking how much they’d like to be Craig’s character, but despite the situations he finds himself in, they won’t be thinking how despicable his life is either.

It’s a real shame because, observed in a vacuum, most of the film – the part before the last twenty minutes or so – is pretty strong. Vaughn cuts between plots just often enough to keep us on our toes and the level of tension stays high as a result, Craig digs into his character’s dry wit and damn-the-torpedoes attitude, and the moments of humor work as well as the more dramatic bulk. The conclusion casts so much doubt on whether we’re right to like what we’ve seen, though, that it pulls out too much of the enjoyment in retrospect. It’s difficult to make a crime caper film work if you’re going to pretend the protagonist shouldn’t really be likable, when it’s going to be hard for anyone to invest in the film otherwise. Conventional wisdom tells us that even a crime drama needs a hero; Vaughn seems to want to mess with this idea to some degree, but he just botches his own characters in doing so.

Slickly enjoyable for most of its run, Layer Cake ironically does most of its stumbling when it tries to end by suddenly trying to make a point on which even its director doesn’t seem clear. Such a shift undercuts the general fun of the rest of the film and just feels far too calculated to be effective. Vaughn has still crafted a more or less winning effort, but stopping it at around the 90-minute mark would have left this Cake with a much sweeter aftertaste.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11260&reviewer=385
originally posted: 12/16/05 16:25:24
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/19/17 Anne Selby at times boring, karma - Craig shot dead 2 stars
4/13/10 brian Oh look, another gangster movie. *Yawn* 3 stars
7/13/06 Phil M. Aficionado A messy cake without much taste, except bitter one and sour, not too fulfilling 3 stars
5/10/06 chienne Again, just went to see it for Marcel Iures, but god, isn't Craig sensational? 5 stars
2/13/06 Reklc Funny, intriguing, interesting and very british, what more do you need?! 5 stars
2/07/06 tatum Standard crime thriller done with much aplomb 4 stars
1/01/06 Tanya very good loved the ending 4 stars
12/28/05 Steve Newman What an excellent film - made my Christmas viewing (Dec 05!) 5 stars
12/16/05 Gary Budds This film was creative and interesting.Stensland most definitely has poor taste in movies 5 stars
9/30/05 Mac excellent! a must see 5 stars
9/18/05 Dominic Very entertaining film 5 stars
8/22/05 John Bale This cake failed to rise. Starts well but bogs down in over complicated plot 3 stars
8/17/05 Agent Sands FUCKING FANTASTIC. A great severance for a primarily shitty movie year. 5 stars
8/13/05 John Bale Starts with promise but over complex plot and pedestrian direction becomes boring 3 stars
7/10/05 cpbjr execellent 5 stars
7/07/05 Elizabeth Blackey Knew nothing about this movie. What a great surprize - loved it. 5 stars
6/29/05 Jack Sommersby Craig is semi-magnetic, but the film is familiar, slow, and abrasive. 2 stars
6/08/05 Agent Sands I could watch it as many times as I've watched Lock, Stock & Snatch. It's just my type!!! 5 stars
5/16/05 Chris Stephens SEe this movie 5 stars
5/06/05 Marc Basque Terrifically plotted and wonderfully acted 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  13-May-2005 (R)
  DVD: 23-Aug-2005

UK
  N/A

Australia
  28-Jul-2005




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