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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
"You're a smart boy. But you keep very bad company."
DVD ReviewThe resurgence of the quirky British gangster genre owes a lot to writer/director Guy Ritchie and his films Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch in which multitudes of violent low-level criminals with strange names like Soap, Bacon, Barry the Baptist, Bullet Tooth, and Franky Four Fingers live and usually die amidst strange and twisting storylines. One of the producers for those two films was Matthew Vaughn, and in 2004 he slid into the director's chair for the first time for Layer Cake—a project very much in the Guy Ritchie vein—based on a book by JJ Connolly, who also penned the screenplay.
Layer Cake centers on a successful London drug dealer (Daniel Craig, whose character is never named), who has grown weary of the new breed of gangster, and plans on doing one more job, cashing out and retiring while he is still young enough to enjoy life. If only it were that easy, because Craig gets selected by his powerful boss, Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham), to track down the missing daughter of a friend, and so begins a series of interconnected, violent events that propels a steady stream of oddball characters along a very deadly path involving a large shipment of stolen Ecstasy, Serbian gangsters, and a headhunting hitman.
There are quite a few duplicitous twists and turns in Connolly's screenplay, enough that revealing too many of them would take the enjoyment out of Layer Cake, and Vaughn steers clear of some of the outright comical moments that Ritchie employed, even if there are characters with equally offbeat names like Tiptoes, The Duke, Slasher, Mr. Lucky, and Kinky. The plot is built upon compounded danger and double-crosses, and even moments that seem like they would be the standard issue movie sex scene (here featuring the lovely Sienna Miller) evolve into unexpected fits of violence.
Casting is first rate, with Craig handily carrying the film as an against-the-grain type, a quiet, gun-hating "businessman whose commodity happens to be cocaine"—his descent into the dirtier end of the crime world is wholly unpleasant, and though we know he's a criminal, he's the film's anti-hero that we find ourselves rooting for. Colm Meany gives a fun turn as Gene, an old-school enforcer working for Jimmy Price, and George Harris wonderfully scowls his way as Craig's henchman Morty, contributing one of the film's most memorable bits of violence during an encounter in a diner. Michael Gambon almost steals this one from Craig as the wise and powerful Eddie Temple, appearing heavily in the film's second half, spouting delicious lines of dialogue in that familiar deep rumble of a voice.
For better or worse, Vaughn appears to have absorbed much of Ritchie's clever visual trappings, utilizing things like unusual scene transitions to give his project a carefully stylized and purposely disjointed flow. The use of music—particularly well-placed songs by The Cult, Duran Duran, XTC, The Rolling Stones—are not just padding on the soundtrack, but manage to really heighten the dramatic punch of a given scene.
The Ritchie comparisons are viable, but Vaughn would be dead in the water had his film been dull or purely an outright rehash of something we had seen before. If Layer Cake is any indication, he shows great promise as a director.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: Sony has issued Vaughn's Layer Cake in an attractive 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer—not quite Superbit quality—but impressive nonetheless. Image detail and black levels are generally quite strong, save for a few instances of slightly softer sharpness, most noticeably during the darker night sequences. Colors have a bright, well-rendered balance throughout, and things like blood and certain colorful articles of clothing really leap off the screen. A bit of haloing is evident, but hardly a distraction.
Be warned, there is also a full-screen edition out there, so check the cover to make sure you get the correct version.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: There is a very aggressive Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track here, one that offers deep, resonant bass and enough movement in all directions to lift the presentation up a few notches. Dialogue—especially for a film sprinkled with more than a few thick accents—remains clear, and though I had to pop on the subtitles a couple of times for clarity so I could make out some of the slang terms, I had no difficulty following the twisting storyline. Music really shines here, with the frequent use of songs on the soundtrack coming across loudly, with great clarity and separation.
A 2.0 French language dub is also included.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Chinese, French, Korean, Thai with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Dave Chappelle: For What It's Worth, Kung Fu Hustle, Snatch
14 Deleted Scenes
2 Alternate Endings
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Matthew Vaughn, J.J. Connolly
Packaging: AGI Media Packaging
Extras Review: Generally nice supplements on this one, beginning with a commentary from director Matthew Vaughn and writer J.J. Connolly. Vaughn is very soft-spoken, and Connolly is even quieter, with his thick accent often making it very difficult to understand, so this track requires a careful ear. The pair talk about the adapting of Connolly's book, the differences in the various drafts and how things were condensed and reworked over time. Vaughn expounds on the battle to keep Morty's big diner fight scene in the film, something he refers to as "original and fun," as well as the creation of a special camera harness to capture the action. On addressing the film's wealth of characters and subplots, Vaughn states, "If it's too complicated, go watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Well said.
Next is a Q & A Screening with Matthew Vaughn and Daniel Craig (29m:01s), recorded in London in September 2004. The segment is moderated by Dave Calhoun from Time Out magazine, and Vaughn and Craig field an assortment of strong questions, including the concerns of the "knives being out" on the move from producer to director. The Making of Layer Cake (05m:56s) is a quickie, with comments on the explanation of film's the title, but really not much time to go into any great detail on anything. This really should have been longer.
A set of 14 deleted scenes and two alternate endings runs just over 20 minutes, with the scenes available with optional commentary from Vaughn and Connolly. The deleted scenes are brief, none of which are especially key, but the two alternate endings offer dramatically different takes on the final moments. I prefer the one Vaughn went with on the finished product, but it is interesting to see what other possibilities existed.
A couple of storyboard comparisons runs just over four minutes, with the finished scene running in the lower right corner, and a section of poster explorations offers 24 examples of different designs. The disc is cut into 19 chapters, with optional subtitles in English, Chinese, French, Korean or Thai.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsHere's a rough and tumble British gangster flick in the tradition of Guy Ritchie, which should not be all that surprising considering first time director Matthew Vaughn served as Ritchie's producer. Vaughn's film is intentionally less funny than those, but with the same violent, serpentine plot full of colorful and explosive small time thugs.
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