Layer Cake gives thrill new meaning: It’s a DVD to feast upon

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Betwixt daunting Cockney insults, maze-like plots, and super-slick traitors made famous by Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, British gangster movies have truly become a unique genre of contemporary film in the last decade.Matthew Vaughn, producer of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, makes his own dive headfirst into London’s underworld in his directorial debut, Layer Cake. The high intensity film begins with a voiceover from Daniel Craig’s character, known as nothing more or less than ‘XXXX’ throughout the entire film, in which he describes his lifestyle: “I’m not a gangster, I’m a businessman whose commodity happens to be cocaine.” Within his own philosophy, Craig’s character sees success because he abides by the following golden rules: keep a very low profile, never be too greedy and quit while you’re ahead. When the story commences, XXXX has made his money, earned his success and is preparing to quietly retire from the cocaine business after one last meeting with his volatile boss Jimmy Price, played by the arrogant menace Kenneth Cranham. At this fated meeting, Price condescendingly explains to XXXX that he cannot walk away from the business as he has a very important “piece of work” o accomplish. Price basically orders XXXX to find the missing cocaine-addict daughter of his old friend and multi-millionaire industrialist Eddie Temple, played by Michael Gambon. In addition to this daunting task, XXXX is awarded the second corresponding assignment of retrieving a lump sum of missing cocaine.Helping XXXX complete these ventures is the eternally cool and collected Morty, played by George Harris, and Price’s right-hand man Gene, played by Colm Meaney. Taking quick initiative, XXXX hires a few criminal freelancers to track down the missing daughter while he tactfully attempts to negotiate his other business with the terrifically dense and bumbling gangster known as the Duke, played exotically by Jamie Foreman. Actress Sienna Miller makes an appearance as XXXX’s timely love interest and girlfriend of the Duke’s nephew, Tammy. She doesn’t have too many lines, but her appearance definitely makes me wonder why Jude Law ever cheated on her.XXXX’s relatively controlled underworld rapidly escalates into mayhem as the missing daughter of interest goes awry, the Duke resorts to Serbian mobsters and Tammy’s ‘situation’ becomes more than XXXX ever bargained for in his high-stake profession. Craig does an incredible job as XXXX, a man truly trapped in the middle of a gangster’s nightmare. He is clearly not quite the average violent gangster, but subsequently, he is not completely innocent, either. XXXX is really more of a businessman than anything else. He lacks experience with guns and murder, but is forced to confront and resort to these ugly realities for the first time anyway. Craig’s serious demeanor and subtle acting effectively conveys XXXX’s sense of growing, yet checked frustration as he is forced to abandon his golden rules completely. Cranham and Gambon are also successful in their interpretations of the aged gangsters Price and Temple. Cranham captures the uncouth, loud and violent crime boss with a layer of almost comedic flair, while Gambon personifies the calculating and cunning antithesis in a seriously intimidating manner.Vaughn, in his first direction effort, creates a very distinctly anxious atmosphere. Repeated shades of gray, steel, and blue are incorporated into the film’s lighting and general illusion to foster a subtle and underlying somber tone throughout the film. Vaughn also employs complex and efficient camera work, particularly in the highly intense scene in which XXXX is tied up and riding down a cage elevator from the top of a skyscraper while being forced to look out between the metal bars at the London skyline only to realize that he has become impossibly entangled in the life he was so desperately trying to escape.I felt somewhat disappointed after viewing this film. I walked in expecting something more lighthearted like Snatch, but Vaughn’s film almost feels more like Traffic with random bits of dry British humor. The film’s title refers to the pyramid-like levels of power in the criminal underworld, and Vaughn uses XXXX to show that no matter how much he rationalizes his endeavors, his actions within the layer cake will ultimately catch up with him. Released several months ago to a limited audience, Layer Cake is now available on DVD. Layer Cake didn’t taste as sweet as I expected, but I would highly recommend it to those film-watchers that enjoy an anxiously edgy thrill ride of a story.