Every once in a while it pays to check out a film that one hasn’t seen in a while. A film pops in your mind and you think, “yeah I liked that. Haven’t seen it in a while, I should check it out again.” I did exactly that recently and revisited the British gangster film, Layer Cake. I figured that with the release of The Dark Knight Rises and with Skyfall slowly making its way to theaters, I should step in the not-so-way-back machine and re-watch a film that has stars from both films. Before Daniel Craig was James Bond and before Tom Hardy was Bane, they teamed up for this British gangster film that was Matthew Vaughn’s directorial debut. I know! I didn’t realize it either! I obviously knew Daniel Craig was in it, but forgot all about Tom Hardy. A fact which resulted in a rather dramatic face-palm if I’m being honest.
So here are the stats:
Title: Layer Cake (also known as L4yer Cake)
Year: 2004 (seems so long ago doesn’t it?)
Director: Matthew Vaughn (This was his directorial debut but would go on to direct Kick Ass and X-Men: First Class.)
Cast: Daniel Craig, Tom Hardy, Michael Gambon, Colm Meaney, Sienna Miller, Ben Wishaw
The film opens with a patented gangster movie narration with our main character telling the viewer how to be successful when operating in the drug business. He plays the middleman who treats the cocaine business as just that, a business. He’s also hoping to leave the life of dealing drugs behind, take his fortune and retire into obscurity and anonymity. His retirement plans, however, are put on hold when his boss gives him not one, but two tasks: find the missing daughter of the boss’ boss, and also, sort out the details of an Ecstasy pill deal that went south. Neither task is appealing, especially when he has to deal with double-crossing mob bosses, educated hit-men, Serbian drug runners, and an ex-con enforcer holding a grudge.
Apparently Guy Ritchie was originally on deck to direct this film, but ended up backing out. If you’ve seen Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, or Snatch, Layer Cake is in the same vein. However, instead of playing it cheeky like those films tend to do, this one plays it a little more straight. Daniel Craig was a leading man even back then and there is no doubt that his performance here led to his being considered to take on the iconic role of Bond. What I found even more interesting about his role here is that his character didn’t even have a name. It’s not something that you even notice until the end credits roll and you see his name listed as XXXX. He’s got that roguish quality that suits his drug-dealing-as-a-business character, but never turns XXXX into a joke.
While gangster films in general have all tread familiar ground, Layer Cake to me, feels fresher than most. Even now, eights years after its initial release. It had been a while since I first watched it, but on my re-watch, I wasn’t bored, which is a testament to its entertainment value. Plus I am a sucker for British gangster films and their dry sense of humor. It makes me laugh but on the flip side, they can be a tad brutal. This is something that’s started to make me squirm just a tad as I get older, but not enough for me to stop watching. Unless I see someone get whacked in the knees….then all bets are off.
One of the things that surprised me this time around was the supporting cast. I honestly had no clue who Tom Hardy was the first time I watched it. It wasn’t until Inception that he hit my radar. I knew Colm Meaney was in it and recognized him from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I knew about Sienna Miller, but had no idea about Michael Gambon. And Ben Wishaw may not be a huge name now, but he’ll be known soon enough since he’s been cast as Q in Skyfall. The supporting cast all do a great job here even if a few of them seem a tad underused (Meaney) or play their role a bit ham-fisted (Gambon looking a weird shade of tan through out).
I hesitate to reveal much more about the film in case this actually leads to someone watching it for themselves. I hate spoilers and try my best to not reveal too much so I’ll not say too much more. Layer Cake’s excellent cast paired with a slick visual style does suffer mildly at the hands of its partially complicated storyline. There’s a lot going on with a lot of different players and at times it jumps back and forth so quickly it may be hard to keep up. That being said, I really dug this film. A lot. It’s one I would recommend so long as you don’t have an aversion to seeing what else an iron can be used for. You’ve been warned.Tags: Ben Wishaw, Colm Meaney, Daniel Craig, L4yer Cake, Layer Cake, Layer Cake Review, Matthew Vaughn, Michael Gambon, Sienna Miller, Tom Hardy