It's a right cockney barrel of monkeys.
Setting out your stall to invite comparisons with cult Brit gangster chappies Snatch and Lock Stock is a bold venture, but as it turn out one that's rather justifiable in terms of overall quality, not just name of the producers. Opening with a somewhat glib attempt at justifying how a drug dealer can fill the traditional hero role (essentially boiling down to 'it'll be legalised eventually, any criminality is a mere temporal aberration'), Layer Cake soon settles down into the world of Britain's criminal underbelly, following a nameless successful 'middleman' played by Daniel Craig as his normally controlled life flies into turbulence when he's told to handle a suspect drugs deal by his supplier and local kingpin Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham).
Our mysterious middleman goes through a convoluted narrative, trying initially to track down the missing daughter of Price's fellow shady leading light of the underworld Eddie Temple (Michael Gambon) while trying to reign in wideboy gangster wannabe The Duke (the increasingly reliable Jamie Foreman) into acting like a 'professional', the exact details and revelations of such being the most compelling reason to watch the piece so perhaps it's better we gloss over the specifics. During the course of the piece we'll see all manner of Cockney malarkey, some Liverpudlian malarkey and some Serbian behaviour that might just about be malarkey, assuming the application of irons to bare flesh sneaks under the definition wire.
It's all rather compelling, truth be told. Matthew Vaughn's clearly been learning from Guy Ritchie during his stints as executive producer on Lock Stock and Snatch, Layer Cake sharing much of the polish and pace associated with the earlier examples often cited as part of the retrospectively rather silly Cool Britannia thing. There's the requisite gangsterisms particularly from Price's right hand thug Gene (Colm Meaney in a surprisingly good performance) and dodgy wideboy con artist Cody (Dexter Fletcher, again oddly fantastic).
The only thing missing is the sharpness of the script in certain places. There's not really any of the memorable moments that's associated with the earlier films, none of the lines that stick in the mind. Again, it's perhaps not truly fair to criticise Layer Cake for not being Snatch, but seeing as all of the promotional material points to exactly that comparison we'd be churlish not to make it. It makes up for that in the most part by dint of the adaptation of the novel providing a rich seam of storyline opportunity, the only issue with which that it's perhaps trying to cram a little too much of it into a little too short of a space.
Still, that's far preferable to doing nothing at all for ninety minutes. As with it's stablemates there's a tangible air of contrivance to it's plot devices but thanks to some clever editing and swiftly unfolding events there's only the smallest window of opportunity to realise this. Layer Cake doesn't have the same light hearted criminality of aforementioned flicks opting for a rather more gritty affair that impressively manages to convey some absolutely brutal scenes while staying well within the guidelines of it's fifteen certificate.
A lot of this film hinges on Daniel Craig, being the only link in the unfolding narrative chain. His charismatic performance glosses over the very few dull spots in the adaptation. His portrayal of a man losing and regaining control of his life is as compelling the events that unfold are, and as a result the movie works. There's very few nits to pick, and certainly offhand I can't think of anything that's too offensive anywhere within.
The only thing stopping Layer Cakehitting the upper echelons of excellence is the time it's been released - the whole Britflick thing has played out so there's not quite the same exuberance surrounding this release as it's spiritual predecessors had, which admittedly shouldn't effect your opinion of anything were it viewed in a dispassionate, scientific way. No-one actually views things in a dispassionate, scientific manner though, or if they do they probably won't be enjoying anything much which renders the experience a tad pointless. Still, there's perhaps a spark of energy missing that shows up more on repeat viewing, which is the only justification for the mark I'm about to give it. Speaking of which...
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.
Kenneth Cranham (Jimmy Price)
Dexter Fletcher (Cody)
Jamie Foreman (The Duke)
Michael Gambon (Eddie Temple)
Sally Hawkins (Sasha)
Darren Healy (Tommy)
Marcel Iures (Slavo)
Nathalie Lunghi (Charlotte Ryder)
Roland Manookian (Gazza)
Colm Meaney (Gene)
Dragan Micanovic (Dragan)
Sienna Miller (Tammy)