Layer Cake has all the warmth and depth of characterisation of the Tarantino films it emulates, but without their visual flair, imagination, style and wicked irony. Like Quentin, director Matthew Vaughn is irreducibly referential - Seven, Lock Stock of course and the quintessential British Gangster movie - Get Carter. But Layer Cake can't decide what it wants to be: if you want to ape Tarantino forget realism and don't be so lazy with the script; if you want to copy Seven, then develop a genuinely coherent plot with a satisfying denouement; fly on the coat tails of Get Carter, then create characters we care about despite ourselves, and give them a believable motivation.
The dialogue in LC is lazy, cliched and predictable. I expected any moment to hear: "'ere gov, sling us the swag" or to make it real: "'ere gov sling us the f****** swag. Lock Stock had no pretensions: it was a tongue in cheek, wickedly cynical and ironic spin on what we all imagine the gangster underworld to be like. One of the best scenes in Layer Cake replicates this tone over a freezer full of corpse. Yes you have to buy in to this amoral stuff to enjoy it at all.
The acting is variable to say the least. When my newly promoted football team, Norwich City, was being taken apart by Thierry Henry and 10 normal human beings, I texted a friend with the thought that in the interests of fair play and meaningful competition, Henry should be required to play 45 minutes for each side. So with Micahel Gambon in LC: the minute he enters the action, unsatisfactorily late, the credibility picks up. Suddenly we care and wonder what happens next. Mind you, continuity and make-up do their best to screw up his performance, with a perma-tan that makes Kilroy-Silk look self-effacing and which in the underlit scenes turns him into a terminal tramp in serious need of a wash. And as a plot driver, giving Gambon a beautiful daughter addicted to crack cocaine and called 'Charly' (geddit?) clunks for Britain.
Daniel Craig will no doubt carry a film one day - this just isn't it. Yes the blue eyes are striking and he does walk well. Therefore he does a lot of very cool walking about. Superficially McQueen comes to mind but McQueen's stillness makes Craig look twitchy and every McQueen performance had moments of sly humour that drew you into his character. I have no idea who Craig is (his character is un-named) or what he is.
Let us celebrate Jon Harris. Harris edited this movie and I suspect when he got it there wasn't a movie there. The editing is real quality: fast, urgent, full of pace. It almost makes the pedestrian story line seem exciting. But even a good editor can't make a muddled movie into a satisfying work of popular art. Rent 'Get Carter' or 'Point Blank', use the spare money for a couple of lagers or bags if popcorn depending on your taste and have a good night in. Unlike Lock Stock, this one isn't worth going out in the cold for.
Zettel September 2004
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