Saturday, May 29, 2021

Catch-Up Neo-Noir Watch: Layer Cake (2004)

Watched:  05/28/2021
Format:  Amazon Streaming
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2000's
Director:  Matthew Vaughn

For a moment there, Britain was exporting some hip crime movies that Americans decided were a pretty good idea.  For a number of reasons, I missed Layer Cake (2004) when it hit the States in the summer of 2005.  And just never saw it afterwards.  Which is crazy.  We're Daniel Craig fans in this house.

It's a plot-heavy, occasionally cheeky gangster movie that served as an accidentally good pairing with The Brothers Rico, which I'd watched the night before.  Both films are about guys who are doing well enough in legitimate business that they want to leave the life behind them - but in Layer Cake, we aren't there yet.  We're just considering retiring after years packaging and selling cocaine in London when our nameless lead, played by Daniel Craig (and - it's clear this is the movie that inspired someone to give him Bond), gets pulled in as an errand boy by his boss, to find a missing girl and to broker a deal with a wild-card hoodlum who has a million hits of ecstacy he's stumbled into and is looking to sell.  

This is a wildly plot heavy film, but it's not necessarily at the cost of character.  In this case, the plot is both driven by the competing motivations and character traits of the underground characters we see at work, from grungy pushers to Serbian Nationalists to high-brow English gentlemen - and, of course, Craig's character, and how the events of the plot compromise who he is, and don't.  

It's a product of the era, and it's remarkable how much more defined the two or three female characters of the film would need to be today - as they're almost entirely props and punchlines in this movie.  It doesn't fill me with outrage.  I was of age during this period and don't know what I would have thought in 2005, but two of the women are Sally freakin' Hawkins and Sienna Miller, and so - while both are fine - you become kind of aware of what the characters *aren't* doing.  

Craig is phenomenal in the film - the weird mix of macho and vulnerable that would come to characterize action heroes, from his Bond to much of the Marvel U (both male and female characters).  His character isn't the former thug made-good, like Hoskins in Long Good Friday or Conte in Brothers Rico, he's more or a morally flexible entrepreneur who likely has some college under his belt.  But, man, that guy can do a whole range with a slight shift of the eye.

Visually, it's not exactly spectacular.  There's some good stuff in there, especially as they go to flashback, and a few editing tricks I admired, certainly.  But it mostly has the same workmanlike look of a lot of film from this era from either side of the pond.  

But, hey - do check it out.  It's a weirdly star-heavy cast with actors just before they broke big:  Craig, Tom Hardy (with just a few lines), Sally Hawkins, Sienna Miller, Colm Meaney, a baby Ben Wishaw, and Michael Gambon playing at his sleazy best.


RHPT said...

If I remember correctly, this film is what made him the front-runner for Bond.

The League said...

Yeah - I'm sure it wasn't the thought at the time, but there are parts that look like a demo reel for what would show up in Bond when he took the role.