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I’ll Pass on the Layercake

January 8, 2007

I’d been hearing great things about Layercake for well over a year, but after seeing it last night, I have to say I’m awfully disappointed.

Layercake seems to be going for the stylistic flash of Snatch and the moral heft of Trainspotting, but without the humor of the former or the credibility of the latter. When Daniel Craig’s character offers his rules on how to be a good criminal at the beginning of Layercake (“avoid amateurs at all costs,” “keep things small,” “have a plan and stick to it”), he is essentially defining his character–and the movie–in opposition to typical gangster movies, which are full of flashy criminals, the kind of folks his character deplores. When a movie so boldly attempts to define itself as “the real deal,” as Layercake does, there are two ways the narrative can go. The movie can either:
a) Illustrate how to execute a perfect crime based on the narrator’s rules of engagement.
b) Use the story of a crime to undercut the narrator’s rules and show that any approach to crime that doesn’t involve a heavy dose of chaos theory is bound to fail.

In either case, the narrative is bound to a higher standard of credibility–if not realism–than the typical gangster pic.

Layercake wants it both ways: it wants to illustrate the perfect crime but use the final scene to demonstrate that Craig’s characters rules are all a bunch of bullshit. But the ending seems more tacked-on than anything else, after the fairy tale way Craig’s criminal plot ends only a minute earlier. You could drive a lorry through all the loose ends: If a scumbag like The Duke has loyal soldiers, how does the biggest boss in England, Jimmy Price, not have any who want revenge on Craig’s character? Didn’t Draggan say he wanted both Duke’s head and the drug shipment that was stolen from him–or he’d kill Craig’s character? After Morty pummels the man who sent him to jail for 10 years and says he’s going to be going away for a while, why does he come back a day or two later?

J.J. Connolly, the screenwriter who adapted Layercake from his own novel, thinks his script is smarter than it is. In the first half of the movie, he keeps putting Craig’s character in riskier and more difficult situations–Price asks him to do a favor that’s outside his area of expertise, his righthand man Morty leaves his crew, a Serbian kingpin wants him dead–but he doesn’t keep up the escalation of risk in the second half. In the second half, Craig’s character easily gets away with murder of the one person in England–save the queen and the prime minister–that you can’t kill. Threats evaporate into thin air. When the police raid a warehouse that’s housing a million hits of ecstasy, there’s an exciting, intriguingly filmed chase scene involving the cops and the dealers. And then the dealers–including Craig–get away in an inflatable raft with an outboard motor down a 15-foot-wide stream, as the cops watch, flummoxed, from the shoreline. Does this sound like a movie that’s at all concerned with credibility to you?

I don’t have any problem with a gangster movie that’s over-the-top and unapologetic about it; despite my concerns over The Departed, it was wonderfully enjoyable, and Face/Off was ridiculous–and terrific–from beginning to end. Just don’t pretend you’re the “real deal” when you’re just another standard-issue genre pic.

The director Matthew Vaughn could learn a thing or two from his good friend Guy Ritchie, who directed Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels: there’s nothing wrong with being clever as long as you’re not arrogant about it.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. you're critique is flawed, at minimum permalink
    September 1, 2014 4:37 pm

    you think you are smarter than you actually are

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