Friday, January 12, 2007

Now Playing: Layer Cake

One of these days I'm going to stop leaving Netflix discs laying around on my shelf for a month gathering dust. I really am. Honestly. Cross my heart and the whole bit. My reasoning is I'm now two-for-two on friggin' awesome movies that have sat unattended to on my shelf for far too long all the while a host of other gems piled up in my Netflix queue.

Some might not consider Virgins From Hell a gem but those people are merely uninformed.

As for Layer Cake, I was just blown away by Matthew Vaughn's sure-handed direction and Daniel Craig's star making performance. I understand now why the Bond producers thought of him for the role after seeing this because even though the character he plays isn't a badass by any stretch of the imagination, he captures the suave, sophisticated and know-it-all seen-it-all essence that is the very soul of James Bond.

Little wonder then why I fell head over heels in love with Casino Royale, in large part due to Craig's performance.

Both Craig and Vaughn prove themselves the real deal right from the start in Layer Cake as Craig's narration sets up his character the world of drug dealers he inhabits. His character, never referred to by name, runs a small travel business as a front for narcotics traffic in the greater London area. He has three other members on his team and does his primary business with a big boss named Jimmy. Jimmy's right hand man is played by the always awesome Colm Meany whose cherubic face hides a hard-boiled menace that is just wicked to watch unleashed. Meany was easily my favorite character on Deep Space Nine and I normally enjoy a movie more by a factor of 50 if he's in it.

The opening 10 minutes sets the stage in grand fashion and it's to Vaughn's credit that he does more with less than Martin Scorsese did with the entire first hour of Casino which did much the same thing. It spelled out how things work in the business while at the same time introducing all of the majority players. While that sequence was easily the best part of Casino, Vaughn reigns things in and gets down to business quickly. Once the stakes, the world, and the players involved are all laid out, it's time to screw everything up and when things go wrong they go completely off the deep end.

I think I spent the better part of Layer Cake with my jaw on the ground at the sheer awesomeness of it all. Coming off of Brick presented me with the challenge of comparing American crime noir to that of Britain and between the two I preferred Layer Cake. It remembers to entertain instead of wallowing in how clever its screenplay is and while I think the final few double-crosses mute the power of one of the endings, the film nevertheless is a strong and bold announcement of major talent coming into their own.

I realize now what a shame it was that 20th Century Fox and Vaughn couldn't come to an arrangement for Vaughn to direct X-Men 3 as he was originally slated to, but at least he was responsible for Kelsey Grammer as Beast which was a brilliant bit of casting. As for Craig, I think his work here and in Infamous will define him as an actor moreso than the flashier Bond series will. But what I was most surprised by with Casino Royale was in just how good he was with the darker and more emotional side of Bond. He may look like more of a bruiser and less a suave elitist, but he was so good that I can only hope the next few Bond films are as good as Casino Royale was.

This is all a long way of saying that Layer Cake is an excellent flick that will be enjoyed by anyone who digs crime films. Oh, and the love scene with Sienna Miller has one of the best uses of a song I've seen in forever.


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