* * *.5
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writer: J.J. Connolly
Producers: Adam Bohling, David Reid, Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Daniel Craig, Tom Hardy, Jamie Foreman, George Harris, Tamer Hassan, Colm Meaney, Kenneth Cranham, Sienna Miller, Jason Flemyng, and Michael Gambon et al.
Piece A Cake
“Cake” immediately makes me think of the band that wondered “how do you afford your rock’n’roll lifestyle,” described a car racer as being “reluctantly crouched at the starting line,” and that did a splendid cover of “I Will Survive.” Were it not for Matthew Vaughn’s film “Layer Cake” (2004), I would probably never associate the word with a movie title. I had considered but did not watch J.J. Connolly’s novel-turned-film in the theatres. Since I didn’t see it for the winner of Film Phonics Week 4, I thought I’d include “cake” as an option for Week 5. Luckily, it received the most number of votes.
Starring Daniel Craig as Mr. X, “Layer Cake” combines humor, action, and solid drama in telling the story of a drug dealer who wants to end his non-violent criminal behavior, but other players in the industry are not going to let him retire without doing one last job. The plot does not dilly dally. It’s very goal-oriented; therefore, as soon as Mr. X realizes that before he can stop pushing cocaine, he must not only sell an enormous quantity of Ecstasy acquired by the Duke (Jamie Foreman), but also find Jimmy Price’s (Kenneth Cranham) daughter Charlie (Nathalie Lunghi), the narrative is in full swing. At the same time, however, there are few frantic scenes. With the exception of the last twenty minutes, the perception of momentum that typically characterizes action films barely registers. To prevent the viewer from getting bored, “Layer Cake” incites laughter and frequently shifts its narrative focus so that one doesn’t continuously wonder “what happened to that other guy?”.
“Layer Cake” is an intertextual film that references the style and spirit of other films such as Guy Ritchie’s “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” and Danny Boyle’s “Trainspotting”—you may even recall the similar sniper-rifle-in-the-park scenes. It is also a nostalgic film because its soundtrack, consisting of Duran Duran, The Cult, and The Rolling Stones, complements the art design aspect of its setting—partly or entirely in Amsterdam. As envisioned in Vaughn’s film, this Dutch city is a wonderland of sort-of-70s, sort-of-90s fashion. The characters converse on sleek cell phones, the automobiles are definitely post-80s, but the clothes and the music signify pop-culture of the past.
I was in tenth grade when I saw “Trainspotting” in theatres and again when it became rentable. “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” I rented on DVD. I watched both those films without captions. For some reason, though, perhaps because I could, I had to watch “Layer Cake” with English subtitles. One of the benefits of renting “Layer Cake” was that I could read—and thus easily understand—the words that come out of Mr. X’s head (the film includes voice-over narrations from Mr. X’s perspective, but rather than suggest omniscience, they enable the viewer to know what the main character is thinking). Considering what I would have misheard or misinterpreted, waiting for the DVD release was the least I could do to ensure a delightful, intelligible experience. From now on, when I hear or read “cake,” more will come to mind than the band that sang about “stick shifts and safety belts.”
Every week, Stina Chyn puts her viewing habits in your hands. Readers vote on five random words posted at Back Talk every Tuesday. The winning word dictates what she will have to watch and review the following week as that word must appear in the title of the movie. Choose wisely!
Posted on September 20, 2005 in Features by Stina Chyn
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