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 favour 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 and Snatch), 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
Snatch, the follow-up to the Guy Ritchie's breakthrough film--the high-energy, expletive-strewn cockney-gangster movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels --hardly breaks new ground being, well, another high-energy, expletive-strewn cockney-gangster movie. Okay, so there are some differences. This time around our low-rent hoodlums are battling over dodgy fights and stolen diamonds rather than dodgy card games and stolen drugs. There has been some minor reshuffling of the cast too with Sting and Dexter Fletcher making way for the more bankable Benicio Del Toro and Brad Pitt, the latter pretty much stealing the whole shebang as an incomprehensible Irish gypsy.
Moreover, no one can complain about the amount of extras featured on this DVD that includes 15 minutes of deleted scenes, a making-of documentary, trailer, storyboards, production notes and commentary from Ritchie himself. And, sure, people who really, really liked Lock, Stock--or have the memory of a goldfish--will really, really like this. The suspicion lingers, however, that if the director doesn't do something very different next time around then his career may prove to be considerably shorter than that of 'er indoors. --Clark Collis
Double bill of British gangster films. 'Layer Cake' (2004) is 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... Writer/director Guy Ritchie continues in mockney gangster vein with 'Snatch' (2000), the follow-up to his 1998 hit 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels'. In London en route to deliver a stolen diamond to his employer Avi (Dennis Farina), thief Franky Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro) is ambushed by Russian mobster Boris the Blade (Rade Sherbedgia). At the same time, boxing promoters Turkish and Tommy enter Irish gyspy fighter Mickey (Brad Pitt) in a fight run by local kingpin Brick Top (Alan Ford). Instead of throwing the fight as arranged, Mickey earns Brick Top's enmity by beating his fighter fair and square. Meanwhile, Avi travels to London and hires Bullet Tooth Tony (Vinnie Jones) to track down Franky and the diamond - which Brick Top has now found out about and decided to appropriate from Boris...