2004's Layer Cake (or, L4yer Cake if you go by the packaging) marked the directorial debut of Matthew Vaughn, producer of Guy Ritchie's two best films, Snatch and Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and in fact, the film was originally conceived of as a project for Mr. Madonna but he soon bowed out to take care of other commitments. Vaughn stepped into the director's chair, and wouldn't you know it, he did a pretty good job especially considering it was his first attempt at making a movie outside of the role of producer. His experience in preparing for a film production was likely a big asset in the film's success, and the future likely holds big things for Mr. Vaughn.
Layer Cake follows the story of a man who is never named (the packaging refers to him as Mr. X though no one ever addresses him by this in the film) played by Daniel Craig (of Tomb Raider). Mr. X has had a pretty successful career as a cocaine dealer but now he's decided he wants to get out of the business and do something else with his life. Things get considerably more complicated than they should for Mr. X when one of his bosses, Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham) tasks Mr. X with recovering the missing drug abusing daughter of an associate of his named Eddie Temple (Michael Gambon of Open Range). To make matters worse for Mr. X, he becomes unwittingly involved in the sale of one million hits of ecstasy that happen to have been stolen from a ruthless Slavic gang who have no qualms whatsoever about executing those they find guilty of wronging them.
Continuously pulled back into the world he longs to escape from, Mr. X isn't the most original crime movie character to come along but he's still a fun guy to watch thanks for an excellent performance from the very Steve McQueen-esque Daniel Craig. Playing the role with complete coolness, Craig really stands out in this film and he plays the role so naturally and he makes it look so easy that at times it doesn't even seem like he's acting – he becomes Mr. X. The rest of the cast are decent as well, especially Gambon, but it's Craig who really gets your attention in this one, the gorgeous Sienna Miller's rather risque scene not withstanding.
Layer Cake also has the distinction of being exceptionally well photographed and slicker than grease in the cinematography department. The look of the film flows beautifully from the opening scene where Craig walks through a store stocked with cocaine right up the ending where the camera pulls away from the final events to shake his world. Ben Davis, who handled the cinematography for Miranda, the 2002 Christina Ricci vehicle, has outdone himself this time and even if you absolutely detest the story and the performances, there's no denying that Layer Cake looks great. In terms of pacing, Vaughn shows a keen eye for pacing and the movie moves along at a very good pace without having to sacrifice too much in the way of character development. Yeah, there are plenty of unanswered questions about everyone we get to know in the film but we do learn enough for the story to work and in the case of this motley crew, a little bit of mystery about their backgrounds and motives actually helps make things a little more believable considering they operate more or less in secrecy and underground.
If the film has one notable flaw, and it does, it's that there are so many characters introduced in a relatively small amount of time and through so many plot threads that not everything is completely wrapped up by the time the end credits hit. A few questions about certain supporting characters are not addressed and some of the twists come out of left field without addressing what has come before. Thankfully the main story is fleshed out quite nicely and while it does get overly complicated at times, with flashing forward and backwards in the timeline of the events that do take place in the film, enough is resolved with sufficient punch at the end of the movie that it's very much a worthwhile endeavor for those who enjoy a good crime movie, even if doesn't feel like a wholly original experience at times.The DVD
Layer Cake gets a pretty solid 2.40.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on its domestic home video debut. The image is sharp and quite detailed, with very nice color reproduction (aside from a couple of scenes that look to have been intentionally toned down a bit for artistic reasons) and strong, deep black levels. There is some mild liner shimmering and some mild edge enhancement but thankfully these aren't major problems on this release and there aren't any issues at all with mpeg compression artifacts creeping into the image. For the most part, this is a very detailed transfer with a nice amount of depth to it, though there are a couple of spots where you might pick out some very minor motion blurring. Thankfully this isn't throughout the entire film and doesn't prove to be overly distracting. In short, Layer Cake looks good. Considering that the British set is two discs and this R1 release ports over all of the extras and combines it with the feature on one disc I was worried about compression issues, but thankfully the film comes through looking very nice indeed.Sound:
The primary audio mix on this release is an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track that does a very nice job with the majority of the material at hand but which would have used just a little more punch in a few scenes. The dialogue comes through pretty clearly and the soundtrack sounds great (Duran Duran has never sounded so good to my ears – though in all fairness I usually hate Duran Duran but their music is used very well in the film). The surrounds are used effectively during the action intensive scenes and during the one scene that takes place in a nightclub your subwoofer will bounce around in a nice way. My only complain is that a couple of the more intense scenes were a bit hollow in the lower end of the mix. It's a minor complaint, but I did notice it. Overall though, the sound mix does the film justice and the surround action fills up your living room/home theater nicely.
Also included on this release is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix in French. I put this mix on momentarily just to sample it and it seems to be pretty close in quality, just without as much channel separation during some specific moments in the film. The dubbing also looked to have been reasonably well done. Also worth noting is that there are subtitles available in French, Chinese, Korean, Thai and English so if you have trouble with any of the accents in the movie, you can always switch on the subtitles though be aware that they are dumbed down a little bit from the actual spoken dialogue.Extras:
Thankfully, all of the supplements from the British two disc set can be found on this new domestic release. Let's take a look at them, shall we? Yes, I believe we shall.
First up is a full length commentary track from director Matthew Vaughn and the film's screenwriter, J. J. Connolly. This is a pretty lively discussion that covers the genesis of the film in a fair amount of detail. Vaughn spends a fair bit of time talking about some of the problems that they ran into as far as financing was concerned and how they managed to overcome those obstacles, while Connolly details some of the issues he had in adapting his own novel for the big screen. While neither of the participants sound extraordinarily excited to be on the commentary, if you listen to what they say rather than how they say it you'll easily come to the conclusion that they're pretty happy with the way that the film turned out and seem to have enjoyed the experience a fair amount as they talk about most of the participants with some affection, especially Daniel Craig. Overall, while this commentary track won't change your life or even your opinion of the film, it does a nice job of explaining the filmmaker's efforts in a fair bit of detail and it proves to be a pretty interesting listen.
Up next are thirteen deleted scenes excised from the film in the editing room. These are available with or without an optional commentary track from the director, who explains why each scene was removed from the film and puts each of them into context. While none of these really change the tone of the film or the storyline all that much, it's interesting to see them and even more interesting to hear why Vaughn decided to get rid of them. Included with these deleted scenes is a pair of alternate endings that were completed for the film but obviously not used in the final version. Without potentially spoiling the film, let it just suffice to say that these two endings are vastly different from the one that the filmmakers ended up going with, and it's very cool to be able to see them included on the disc.
A Making Of Layer Cake featurette is included on the DVD as well. This segment was shot before the film was completed and through interviews with the writer, director and a few different cast members (Daniel Craig, the lovely Sienna Miller, and Jamie Foreman specifically) and a vast array of clips from the film we're able to get a reasonably comprehensive look at the film while it was in progress. A lot of this comes off as simple self promotion but there are some interesting tid-bits that come out during the interview and some of the behind the scenes footage is interesting to see.
The DVD also includes an interesting Question And Answer Session With Daniel Craig And Matthew Vaughn that was conducted in front of a live audience at the National Film Theater in England around the time of the film's debut. Clocking in at just under thirty minutes in length, this is a pretty detailed discussion about the film that covers some interesting ground that the commentary and the featurette don't go into. The discussion is intelligent and enlightening and if you were into the movie at all, this segment is worth your time.
Rounding out the extras are a trio of trailers for other, unrelated DVD releases from Sony – conspicuously absent is the trailer for Layer Cake itself. There's also a decent sized still gallery, two storyboard comparisons, and a music video included as well.Final Thoughts:
While not without its flaws, Layer Cake is an impossibly slick film with some interesting characters and a fantastic twist ending. At times an exercise in style over substance, Daniel Craig's performance is strong enough to carry the film even during its more convoluted moments. Overall, the film is certainly worth a watch for those who appreciate the British take on the gangster drama. Sony's DVD looks and sounds quite good, and there are some decent supplements included on this one as well, which makes it easy to stamp 'Recommended!'