This 'Cake' Ain't Sweet (Film Review: "Layer Cake")

From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my Arts & Entertainment articles.
This 'Cake' Ain't Sweet
Film Review: "Layer Cake"

Mark J. Lehman
A & E Editor

Originally Published: Friday, August 12, 2005

Matthew Vaughn helped produce both 1998's critically acclaimed "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and the 2000 cult hit "Snatch." Is it any wonder, then, that the first film he directs features the same gritty settings and the same grizzled mobsters facing problems with soured drug deals and dead friends?

"Layer Cake," Vaughn's directorial debut, centers on his unnamed protagonist, played by Daniel Craig ("The Jacket"), and tells the convoluted story of a man who has made a decent wage in the drug trafficking business by keeping a low profile and dealing discreetly with only those he trusts most. When he decides he wants to retire, however, he quickly finds it's easier to get in than to get out. Forced to accomplish two more tasks before retiring--finding the daughter of an important mob boss and pulling one last deal with an obnoxious petty drug dealer who has happened on a big payload--Craig's character finds his life spinning in and out of all the wrong circles.

Though very genre-specific, "Layer Cake" remains an exceedingly compelling film with some genuine human touches to it. Unlike some others in the genre, the film keeps its audience close and connected to the characters rather than keeping them as outsiders who are simply watching the story elements unfold. In other words, the film engrosses the viewer not only through adrenaline and fun but also through emotion and some slightly heavy drama.

Part of what creates such an engrossing characteristic is the acting, which remains cool and unsympathetic while managing to stay serious and real. Craig brings to his character a calm confidence, yet exudes a subtle feeling of a man who is losing control despite his best efforts at maintaining charge over his environment. In one scene in particular, Craig gives an awesome glimpse at the anguish associated with dealing with such high-pressure situations on a regular basis. Both he and the director deserve praise for including such a moment, as those types of events rarely receive screen time.

Apart from some other excellent performances by character actors such as Michael Gambon (Dumbledore in the last "Harry Potter") and Colm Meaney, who has played bit parts in "Under Siege" and "Mystery, Alaska," the film does not offer much else of note. While the story stays solid throughout, it fails to take that extra step to go from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Even the ending--which fits well with the film and does not try to wrap it all up into a nice neat package--misses the mark insofar as it does not really knock the wind out of the viewer like a surprise ending should.

While the title "Layer Cake" fits well with the many layers of plot and character development--not to mention the metaphorical use of life as a layer cake that one simply must claw one's way to the top of--the execution of the film does not quite "take the cake." Instead, it is left somewhere around the second or third layer. Still, "Layer Cake" is one treat worth checking out, and it might even leave a pleasant aftertaste.
[via Los Angeles Loyolan:]
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