Film — Layer Cake (R)

Layer Cake (R)

by Amy Diaz

Daniel Craig campaigns for the part of Britain’s Steve McQueen in the coolly entertaining Layer Cake, a gangster movie that’s more than just Cockney accents and quick edits.

Sure, Layer Cake has tough things too, but unlike, say, the movies of Guy Richie, this movie has at least hints of deeper stuff. A large part of this is due to Craig, whose rugged good looks and impenetrable gaze hint at boatloads of complexity even in his relatively straight forward character. Craig plays an unnamed drug dealer who approaches his criminality with the serious manner of any workaday businessman. He is, essentially, a middle man who has constructed an organization that brings in large quantities of a drug, repackages it and gets it to the retail market. He has strict rules about his enterprise — no guns, low profile, no hanging out with wannabe gangsters. He has two friends in the business, Gene (Colm Meaney) and Morty (George Harris), who serve as trusted colleagues and occasional muscle. His approach is as standard as that of a cog in any corporate machine — keep your head low, make as much money as possible and get out as soon as you can.

It’s the getting out that may pose a problem for Craig’s character, who also narrates the movie. His boss Jimmy (Kenneth Cranham) seems to be sensing his fastidious employee’s imminent departure and tells him that he makes him too much money to ever be allowed to leave. Jimmy also gives Craig’s character two tasks fraught with the kind of peril he’s tried so studiously to avoid. One is to sell the massive quantities of Ecstasy obtained through unnecessarily dangerous means by Duke (Jaime Foreman), a loud, showy poser of a gangster. The other is to find the junkie daughter of Eddie Temple (Michael Gambon), a somewhat legitimate, far more powerful friend of Jimmy’s. Both tasks have Craig’s character working outside his carefully laid plans and push him into a situation where he will have to both double-cross and kill, two things he seems loathe to do.

Layer Cake is at its best when it shows Craig in situations where he is asked to go outside what he clearly feels are his expected duties. Craig’s character views the drug dealing as a job and sees organized crime not for the gangster flash and swagger but for the organization part. His approach and attitude, one of weary, slightly pissy acceptance, is familiar to any cubicle-dwelling corporate worker who attempts to run the angles to get the most for himself even while the system seems set up to take him down. This de-sexing of the criminal lifestyle — showing its aggravations not its glamour — gives the movie its best moments of humor and give Craig the widest opportunity to work the stoicism for all it’s worth.

The movie is really made by its performances — tales of gangsters, stings and the stupidity of criminals are nothing new. In addition to Craig, Gambon, Foreman, Meaney and Harris all turn in impressively nuanced and mature performances. The only misstep is a small role by Sienna Miller, an actress whose sole job seems to be modeling lingerie in one of the film’s most incongruous scenes.

Layer Cake is just that, a bulky tower of layers — of control, of frustration, of hypocrisy — all topped with a deliciously evil wink.

- Amy Diaz

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