16 July 2005 | dtb
Chameleon Craig Does a Steve McQueen in Brutal But Sleek Thriller
After an art house release everywhere else in the civilized world, LAYER CAKE (LC) unexpectedly premiered in our area, the Lehigh Valley, at the $4 theater in Easton (this joint started as a second-run theater, but it's been getting some acclaimed imports and indies lately, too. Somebody there is a good programmer!). This British import, adapted by J.J. Connolly from his novel, is a taut crime drama that moves with the sleek menace of a tiger. Imagine THE BIG SLEEP with an ever-so-slightly more coherent plot and, as its protagonist, a prosperous, wily drug dealer looking to retire after one last score instead of tough but noble private eye Philip Marlowe. Our hero's problem is that he's a careful, calculating businessman in a dicey business where he's surrounded by loose cannons who shoot, stab, or punch first and ask questions later. Director Matthew Vaughn has been best known as Guy Ritchie's producer, but in his directorial debut Vaughn is like Martin Scorsese to Ritchie's Barry Sonnenfeld (that's meant as a compliment to all concerned, I assure you). It helps that Vaughn gets excellent performances from Daniel Craig as our cool but in-over-his-head unnamed antihero (usually films and books that refuse to name their main character strike me as trying too hard to be clever, but it works here), Michael Gambon nearly stealing the show as a cultured but ruthless narcotics kingpin, Colm Meaney and THE INTERPRETER's George Harris as our protagonist's partners in crime, and many folks from Guy Ritchie's films. Sienna Miller doesn't get to do much beyond being eye candy, but she's tasty eye candy indeed. I'm as heterosexual a gal as they come, but after seeing lithe, leggy Miller strip down to black lingerie and garters, I couldn't help thinking, "That Jude Law is one lucky guy!" :-) One of the things I liked about LC is that the protagonist, while thoughtful and competent, is never quite as clever as he thinks he is; somehow everybody manages to be one step ahead of him, if only because they're all so damned unpredictable. Though I've only seen Daniel Craig in three of his many films (the other two were THE ROAD TO PERDITION and THE JACKET), he's clearly one of those actors who never looks or sounds the same from role to role, so if he does indeed end up being Pierce Brosnan's successor as James Bond as rumored, it'll be interesting to see how he fares playing the same character in more than one film! :-) In any case, Craig certainly lives up to the "new Steve McQueen" rep that LC has garnered him. I look forward to seeing what he'll do next!