As its title suggests, Layer Cake
is a crime thriller that cuts into several levels of its treacherous criminal underworld. The title is actually one character's definition of the drug-trade hierarchy, but it's also an apt metaphor for the separate layers of deception, death, and betrayal experienced by the film's unnamed protagonist, a cocaine traffic middle-man played with smooth appeal by Daniel Craig (whom you probably don't need reminding is the latest James Bond). Listed in the credits only as "XXXX," the character is trapped into doing a favor for his volatile boss, only to have tables turned by his boss's boss (Michael Gambon) in a twisting plot involving a stolen shipment of Ecstasy, a missing girl, duplicitous dealers, murderous Serbian gangsters, and a variety of lowlifes with their own deadly agendas. As adapted by J.J. Connolly (from his own novel) and directed by Matthew Vaughan (who earned his genre chops as producer of Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels
), Layer Cake
improves upon those earlier British gangland hits with assured pacing, intelligent plotting, and an admirable emphasis on plot-moving dialogue over routine action. Sure, it's violent (that's to be expected) and not always involving, but it's smarter than most thrillers, and Vaughan's directorial debut has a confident style that's flashy without being flamboyant. This could be the start of an impressive career. --Jeff Shannon
British gangster film based on the London-set crime novel by J.J. Connelly. 'X' (Daniel Craig) is a successful, smooth-talking cocaine dealer - respected among London's crime elite - whose plan is to bankroll enough cash to make an early retirement from 'business' and lead a quiet, crime-free life. He sees the opportunity to make a final score when big crime boss Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham) asks him to track down Charlotte Ryder (Nathalie Lunghi), the wayward daughter of his old friend Eddie (Michael Gambon). But complicating matters are 2 million pounds' worth of Grade A drugs, a neo-Nazi sect and endless 'layers' of deals and double-deals...