Layer Cake - 2004
Director(s): Matthew Vaughn
Writer(s): J.J. Connolly
Cinematography by: Ben Davis
Editor(s): Jon Harris
Cast: Daniel Craig, Tom Hardy, Jamie Foreman, Sally Hawkins, Burn Gorman, George Harris, Tamer Hassan, Colm Meaney, Kenneth Cranham, Marcel Iures and Francis Magee
When I read the news that Matthew Vaughn's third Kingsman movie was currently filming (2020 release date), a wave of complete indifference crashed over me despite my love for the director and the first Kingsman. Part due to the lackluster 2017 Kingsman sequel (The Golden Circle), but mainly due to Vaughn seemingly being stuck in that source material after churning out five completely different films before 2017(Stardust, Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class). This news made me want to revisit the movie that made him an upcoming star and the role many claim got Daniel Craig his James Bond tenure, 2004's crime thriller Layer Cake. Let's talk about it.
The story follows a highly successful cocaine dealer (Craig) as he tries to look for a way out of the business, having accumulated a vast amount of wealth. Unfortunately for him, his boss Jimmy (Cranham) has other plans for him, sending him two assignments that quickly unravels into the biggest disaster his career has seen, placing him in the crosshairs of multiple mob leaders leading to a high body count resolution. J.J. Connolly adapted the screenplay from his novel, creating a fast-paced story filled with betrayals and twists that keep the audience fully engaged throughout the runtime. Every character has a rich backstory that plays into the events unfolding, informing their actions, making the plot progression feel character driven and not forcing the story from one sequence to the other.
For this being his directorial debut, Vaughn showcases a sleek veteran style that pays homage to the crime films that paved the way, while still feeling completely original. Multiple stylistic choices add a lot to what could've been another run of the mill crime thriller. My personal favorite is the POV shot during a beating at a cafe. Placing the audience in the shoes of the guy getting beat up makes the event that more visceral. The crisp editing from Jon Harris along with the great visuals from cinematographer Ben Davis add a lot to the experience. This trio since this film has gone on to have incredible careers.
Daniel Craig cool, calm and sophisticated performance is definitely a precursor to his long-running turn as Bond. However, while the film focuses on Craig and he delivers, the script creates a right balance between all the characters giving them moments to shine. Sally Hawkins is the perfect, horrible junkie girlfriend, and Jamie Foreman is the perfect junkie boyfriend that is too connected within the organization. George Harris is the imposing figure behind the beating at the cafe, and Colm Meaney plays a quasi-mentor of Craig. Tom Hardy has a nice small role as part of Craig's gang, and Ben Whishaw plays an entirely different character to what I am used to from him nowadays.
Layer Cake is a fun, fast-paced, crime thriller that plays with the audience expectations giving them enough variety to stand out from the rest of the pack. While I loved the tongue and cheek spy thrillers, Vaughn crafted in the first Kingsman, but I do hope that after the third installment he returns to exploring different genres and stories. Currently on Netflix, give it a shot if you are looking for a fun crime caper.
Layer Cake is Glass Half Full.
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