"I'm not a gangster. I'm a businessman whose commodity happens to be cocaine."
Taking the long view, over time Layer Cake will probably be best remembered as the movie that got Daniel Craig his gig as James Bond. Formerly a hardworking but little noticed supporting player in pictures like Road to Perdition and Tomb Raider, Craig's charismatic turn as the unnamed protagonist of this little British crime movie proved that he had genuine star potential, and obviously caught the attention of the folks at EON Productions, who eventually signed him up to take over from Pierce Brosnan in the Bond franchise reboot Casino Royale. Watching the movie now, it's obvious what they saw in him. Debonaire and deadly serious, yet also self-effacingly humorous and vulnerable, the role gives Craig a chance to show his acting chops and carry a feature. It also happens to be a pretty good movie to boot.
The directorial debut of Matthew Vaughn (producer of Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch), Layer Cake is somewhat of a piece with Guy Ritchie's crime capers, but strikes out on its own by downplaying the goofy humor and attempting to illustrate the mechanics of the British drug trade. Our anonymous hero is a middle manager in a huge business venture divided into strata (like a layer cake) between the big money financiers, product procurers, and street-level dealers. He acts as a liaison between all these parties, and has made a lot of money at it. Wanting nothing more at this point than a quiet early retirement, of course the tenets of the genre dictate that he be dragged into One Last Job which will go disastrously wrong. In this case, his powerful employer actually pressures him into taking two last jobs, one to find a buyer for a huge load of stolen Ecstasy pills, and secondly to find the missing junkie daughter of a business associate. The two tasks seem unrelated, but naturally tie together in unexpected ways.
Adapted by writer J.J. Connolly from his own novel, Layer Cake has an enormously complicated and confusing plot, rife with double- and triple-crosses and flooded with a huge cast of colorful characters vying for screen time. There are flashbacks seen from multiple perspectives, and important events are often cross-cut in ways difficult to follow. Vaughn borrows some cues from his friend Ritchie and tries to sort everything out with flashy directorial choices that sometimes help and sometimes don't. What holds the piece together, fortunately, are the richly developed characters and inherent fascination of the story. Even at its most convoluted, the movie keeps us interested enough to want to figure it out. It has moments of shocking, cringe-inducing violence, but pulls back from over-the-top gore. It also has plenty of sly humor but doesn't go overboard with it (when told he better take a gun to protect himself, the hero declares, "Are you trying to scare the shit out of me? I mean, I fucking hate guns... although that one is really pretty").
Starlet of the moment Sienna Miller has a small role as Craig's love interest, in what is the least fleshed out or convincing subplot; the hero's instant infatuation with her seems out of character, even if the storyline does play a critical role later on. Nevertheless, Layer Cake is a smart, entertaining thriller, and more than just a footnote in a future star's career.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Layer Cake debuts on the Blu-ray format courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The disc's menus are nice to look at but annoyingly designed in a manner that's difficult to tell which selection you've highlighted.
Blu-ray discs are only playable in a compatible Blu-ray player. They will not function in a standard DVD player or in an HD DVD player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
The Layer Cake Blu-ray is encoded in High Definition 1080p format using MPEG2 compression on a dual-layer 50 gb disc. The movie is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 with letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the 16:9 frame.
The image may not be razor sharp, but does have good detail and a fair sense of depth. Colors are accurately rendered, if not especially vibrant. The opening prologue scenes contain heavy film grain by design, and the remainder of the movie is mildly grainy as well, but the disc has no serious problems with compression artifacts or video noise. This is a nice transfer for the movie with natural, film-like textures.
The Layer Cake Blu-ray disc is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over a Blu-ray player's analog Component Video outputs.
The movie's soundtrack is provided in uncompressed PCM 5.1 format or in standard Dolby Digital 5.1. This is an effective sound mix, but not one with a lot of complicated razzle dazzle. The film starts with a very loud bang, and has loud music and effects throughout. Surrounds are used sparingly, however (mostly for music), and bass presence is only fair. The many songs on the soundtrack are presented with pleasing fidelity. The track is pretty good for a low-budget movie.
Subs & Dubs:
Optional subtitles – English, English captions for the hearing impaired, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, or Thai.
Alternate language tracks - French DD 5.1.
All of the bonus features on this Blu-ray title are recycled from the DVD edition. Most of the important of the supplements from the DVD have carried over.
Also on the disc are some miscellaneous trailers for unrelated Sony movies, but no trailer for Layer Cake itself (an excerpt from the funny theatrical trailer is seen in the Q&A feature). Missing from the DVD are a still gallery, storyboards, and music video.
- Audio Commentary - Director Matthew Vaughn and screenwriter J.J. Connolly deliver a very low-key, frankly dull commentary mostly focused on elements of the story. The track is mixed in a frustrating manner with each participant coming from a different speaker, with occasional phase problems as their voices overlap. Connolly also has a thick accent and slurs most of his words, making his comments difficult to understand.
- Deleted and Extended Scenes (22 min., SD) – 16 scenes are provided, including two ridiculous alternate endings the studio forced the crew to shoot. Optional commentary by Vaughn and Connolly is again available, but even they admit that they don't have much to say.
- Q&A with Matthew Vaughn and Daniel Craig (29 min., SD) – The best feature on the disc, this is an interesting, intelligent discussion of what the filmmakers were trying to achieve.
- The Making of Layer Cake (6 min., SD) – Typical EPK fluff featuring interviews with the cast and crew trying to promote the movie.
Hidden on the disc is a selection of HD test patterns. You can access these by entering 7669 on your remote control from the disc's main menu. Use the Skip button to page through the patterns.
Good movie, good picture, good sound, OK bonus features. Recommended.
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