“Drugs Changed Everything.”
So the story goes in the eminently stylistic, gangster heist flick Layer Cake. There is something special about a film that is able to say more by saying less. That is one of the biggest attributes of this British drama. Many of the scenes fill the screen in an artsy matter, largely in part to tremendous cinematography and exclusive camera angles.
Take for example the lead character XXXX, played by Daniel Craig. We refer to the lead character as XXXX, the name acknowledged in the credits, because we never find out his identity. As XXX is making his way through a department store he makes his way past perfumes and other cosmologic products while they slowly transform into various drugs. This camera tactic quickly grabs the viewer’s attention and lets them realize that the film has a clear vision. Layer Cake wants you to free your mind and it wants you to feel the passion.
That vision is continued in a brilliant scene involving XXXX and one of the many gangsters he comes across. In a night club, XXXX is talking business when the words of the loudmouthed relative of “The Duke,” go through one ear and out the other. Distracted, XXXX's eyes and mind are set on a blonde named Tammy (Sienna Miller) on the dance floor. As the camera moves away from the men, the music fades in. The conversation then goes silent. Nothing ground breaking here, but the attention to detail is pleasant.
It is next to impossible to watch the film without being reminded of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. Both were quality films produced by Matthew Vaughn. Vaughn breaks apart from buddy Guy Ritchie to take over in the director’s chair in this cunning feature, welded in the tradition of the Scorsese crime examinations, Casino and Goodfellas.
XXXX wants out of his life of crime and has every intention of retiring soon. But first he is thrown into a few new assignments by a prominent drug lord named Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham). The center of the film is focused on the millions of ecstacy pills that are taken from a posse of Serbs by “The Duke” (Jamie Forman) and his crew. Everyone involved is on a quest to either gain possession of the pills or get some royalties tossed their way. Along the way we learn XXXX is not your typical gangster. He is very sleek, but very caring. At one point he calls in a death of an overdosed druggie on a pay phone, only to withdraw from giving his own name. He goes about his business by using his wisdom and ingenuity rather than enforcing violence and vigor.
XXXX has his own crew. Morty (George Harris) is his main man. However, Morty loses control in a local diner when he comes across a man whose incompetence cost him ten years in prison. A bloody beating is in order as Morty doesn’t hold back his anger. Gene (Colm Meaney) is a huge part of the crew, as well as Jimmy’s right hand man. He is very knowledgeable in the game of drug trafficking. Gene is also the provider of many of the crew’s weapons, despite the fact that XXXX hates guns.
The performance of Craig (one of the rumored possibilities for the next James Bond) is very convincing as is virtually every supporting cast member. The characters act and talk like normal people and not like something out of a dismal, made for TV movie.
Yes, there is violence. And make no bones about it… this is a film about crime, drugs and the lengths people will go for fame and glory. It also explores the difficulty of getting out of a lifestyle filled with scumbags and backstabbers. This is not cartoon type, glorified violence. It is violence with style.
The DVD version of Layer Cake gives us 14 deleted scenes. Most of them are under a minute or so and involve simple conversations. None of which would have changed the film in any way other than making it about 20-30 minutes longer. If anything, it displays good editing decisions.
In addition to the deleted scenes, there are two alternate endings. Obviously, I can’t go into great detail about those. All I can really express is that if either of them had been chosen by Director Matthew Vaughn, the emotions of the viewer would have been severely altered. One of the potential endings would have left us guessing what happened after the credits rolled, or if perhaps whether or not a sequel was in order. The other ending would have changed our overall mood following the film. It’s hard to say if the correct decision was made.
Storyboards can be very insightful, especially for those seeking a career in the industry. They allow us to see the pictures that were drawn and the visual art form of preparing and envisioning the scenes. This is a unique aspect that many DVDs have come equipped with as of late. The Layer Cake DVD allows you to choose from two separate scenes that are then displayed simultaneously beside the storyboards.
There is a poster feature that allows you to view over 24 posters for the film. Nothing mind boggling, but it is neat to scroll through them.
Finally there are two featurettes. The first is about thirty minutes long and involves a Q & A session with Director Matthew Vaughn and star Daniel Craig. The production was put on by The National Film Theatre in London with Dave Calhoun of "Time Out" magazine conducting the interview. Calhoun goes through about twenty minutes of questions, before allowing a few questions from the audience. The topics range from casting, budget and how the project came together in the first place. The other featurette is “The Making of Layer Cake.” This is just under six minutes and includes comments from the Director and many of the actors.
The features are all very insightful and, most importantly, all on one disc with the movie. In all reality, how much do we truly need to know about a film anyway? The Layer Cake DVD has the perfect amount of information. Not so little that we feel ripped off, but not too much that we feel overloaded with wasted space and effort. This very good film is made even better with a quality DVD.