(Turfseer) from NEW YORK, NY
Reviewed on 9/9/2010...
Convoluted plot, dialogue-heavy scenes and too many sub-plots spoil the broth
*** This review contains spoilers ***
Here's a movie that I had to watch four times to basically understand what was going on. And I'm still not completely sure about all the details of the plot. Part of the problem were those thick British accents and all the local references which I was clueless about. Fortunately, I swallowed my pride and put on the English subtitles for my third and fourth viewings. Boy did that help! And the pithy Wikipedia plot summary also worked wonders!
Layer Cake is based on J.J. Connolly's talky novel and you could say that the film version is dialogue heavy. Sometimes that's a good thing (the dialogue is very clever) but at other times, scenes seem a bit too long and draggy.
We never learn the the name of the protagonist who's played by Daniel Craig (the character is referred to 'XXXX' in the credits—let's just call him 'Craig' for short). Craig reminds me very much of a modern-day Steve McQueen. He's a drug dealer who views himself as a businessman, not a thug. His supplier is the older gangster Jimmy Price who summons Craig to a ritzy club for lunch and demands that he find Charlotte, the drug addict daughter of Eddie Temple who's disappeared (Temple, another older gangster is far more sophisticated than the impulsive Jimmy). The search for the missing daughter is merely a sub-plot in the film; the main plot involves Jimmy ordering Craig to purchase a large amount of Ecstasy pills under the control of 'The Duke', a foul-mouthed psychopath who always has Slasher at his side, a nervous nilly of a girlfriend who always seems to be putting her foot in her mouth.
Director Matthew Vaughn (who produced Guy Ritchie's 'Lock, Stock & Barrel') has made it a point that he wanted to make a 'serious' gangster picture and not copy Ritchie's style which often employs humor (mainly black comedy). Unfortunately, some of the characters in Layer Cake are unintentionally funny. Take for example Duke and Slasher fumbling for directions as they try to locate the Serbians' lair. And what about when Slasher loses control of her machine gun during the robbery and shoots one of the workers? Other instances of pure idiocy occur later in the film.
I had a hard time believing that Duke and his hapless crew could so easily rip off the nasty Serbs (how exactly do they catch the Serbs by surprise?). And why doesn't The Duke simply kill the Serbians—they are supposed to be ruthless, aren't they? The Duke ends up falsely bragging on the street that Craig is connected with him and before you know it, the Serbians are after him too! Craig and his crew want to slap The Duke around for his indiscretion, but when they arrive at the boatyard where Duke's middleman was working on moving the purloined merchandise, they find the man dead, obviously the victim of the Serb's enforcer, the dark assassin, Dragan.
I forgot to mention that Craig has already met Duke's gangster wannabe nephew and his sexy girlfriend, Tammy (Sienna Miller). The story begins to drag when Craig's hired associates find Charlotte's boyfriend, Kinky, dead up at the drug rehab facility (the scene could have been easily cut by a good ten minutes). And then there's Director Vaughn trying to imitate early Tarrantino when he has Craig's right hand man, Morty, stomp and scald low-life Freddie Hurst (Jimmy's right hand man, Gene, explains to Craig in a flashback that years ago, Freddie was responsible for Morty going to prison for ten years-- the bizarre tales involves a hoodlum committing suicide in a crowded restaurant, Morty being found with the body in the back of the van by the police after Freddie falls asleep as the getaway driver).
More unintentional comedy occurs when Gene gives Craig a gun and Craig states, "I hate f-cking guns", only to deftly use it a short time later on. Sienna Miller has one short unconsummated sex scene with Craig who's suddenly kidnapped by Temple who plays him a recording proving that Jimmy is a police informer. More dumb criminals: Jimmy, it turns out, has been suckered into a bad investment by some African scam artists. In the most ludicrous scene in the entire movie, Craig somehow gains access to Jimmy's estate and murders him (how does he get past security?). Despite no longer having access to his laundered money (his accountant has flown the coop), Craig makes a deal with Eddie to sell him the stolen Ecstasy pills. Oh yes, more silly Tarrantino stuff: Jean beats Craig to a pulp for killing Jimmy but then forgives him after hearing the recording of Jimmy spilling the beans. Craig is as dumb as the rest when he convinces his Liverpool gang associates to lend him their hit man so they can ambush Dragan in a public park. Wouldn't you know it, but Dragan has been waiting for them all along and easily takes out the hit-man.
The Layer Cake climax seems rushed (and not very 'layered'). The police end up confiscating the pills during a raid and Dragan lets Craig off the hook once he brings him Duke's decapitated head in a cooler (the Serbs aren't upset since they're now manufacturing gobs of Ecstasy pills). How does Eddie end up with the loot? I think two of Craig's associates manage to pilfer some in an armed robbery of a Serb courier (?). As for Craig, the gang wants to make him the new boss but just as he walks out, he's cut down by Sidney, the Duke's nephew, who's jealous that Craig has taken his girl.
I'm afraid 'Layer Cake' has a few too many 'layers' for me. With its unnecessary subplots, gratuitous violence and convoluted plot that doesn't always make sense, I can't claim to be a big fan. On the other hand, I did enjoy trying to figure out what was going. I guess that does count for something.
3 of 4 member(s) found this review helpful.
(gjones) from TROUTDALE, OR
Reviewed on 11/8/2009...
Cool movie! Lots of twists, great cast, great acting. Warning: this is from the director that brought us Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Guy Ritchie, so if you have problems understanding heavy English accents be prepared to turn up the volume and keep down the background noise!! Still, a lot of fun, highly recommended. Ritchie kicks ass at this genre.
2 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.