Directed by Matthew Vaughan. UK. 2004.

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It’s a simple concept. Easy but brilliant. Take a seminal film that creates a new “Cool” in its genre and try to “Upcool” it. 

Take Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Innovative and sophisticated screen plays unleashed on an unsuspecting audience. The essence of cool. But old QT had to get greedy, didn’t he? Greedy and lazy. So he thought, “Hey, I know what the formula for cool is now”, and made Jackie Brown. An awful, sorry excuse of a cop-out. He tried to force it to be cool and he failed. Miserably. 

The Matrix. An equally genre-defining cinematic experience, spawning an entirely new movie culture (was going to say neo-movie culture but decided against it, even though it is clever word play). Another cool film. But with two and three - decided to forget the full titles - the creative team disappeared up their own backsides. 

Conclusion: You cannot do it. You cannot consciously make something the “C” word. Cool is effortless, understated, accidental at times. It is not and can not be contrived. And anything that promotes itself as cool will fail. Lecture over. Or is it?

Matthew Vaughan’s Layer Cake. “Makes bloke Brit-flicks cool again”. 

Daniel Craig plays a nameless drug dealer who, like every other half-intelligent and long-standing criminal, who narrates his story in gritty crime escapades, wants out. He is going straight. However as fate, with a little help from cliché, would have it, an opportunity for one last final spectacular score comes his way. 

At a meeting with his boss, Jimmy (Kenneth Cranham), he is given two jobs. To find Jimmy’s old friend Eddie’s daughter and to orchestrate a drug deal with a supplier with a Tarantino-esque name; The Duke (Jamie Foreman). He decides to take on both to win happy terms of separation from Jimmy and a nice little earner at the same time. But, unsurprisingly, it all goes wrong. The drugs that eventually end up in his possession are, in fact, stolen. Not only stolen, but stolen from the Serbian Mafia, complete with their comiK.G.B accents. Double crossings and dodgy dealings are abound and Craig ends up with blood on his hands but Sienna Miller by his side and money in his bank account.

So everyone’s a winner. Apart from the audience.

You see, Vaughan has fallen into the trap. Essentially, Layer Cake just tries too hard. It tries to be cool, it tries to be Lock Stock, it tries to be gritty, it tries to be intelligent, it tries to be Mike Hodges. 

And it really, really tries.

It’s like a Reality TV experiment. Take a load of ex-Public School posh boys and ask them to make a gritty British crime drama. It is full of stereotypes, clichés, two-dimensional characters and is ultimately cringable. It’s like a gay guy who attempts to cover up his sexuality by earnestly saying things like, “Ooh, I like her tits and nipples”.  It’s just embarrassing. Why try to be something you’re not? 

To his credit Craig tries very hard to be a tough London gangster but is completely miscast. And to his even greater credit in my eyes, he even looks a bit embarrassed at times. As if he’s trying to offer some sort of apology; “I know it doesn’t work. I know I’m no hard-nut gangster actor. But it’s a job, what can I do?” 

Vaughan has seen Lock Stock, with no budget, and I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, with no marketing, and tried to blend and improve the two. But if there has ever been a film more distant from it’s subject matter and the world in which it lives - I want to avoid it.

However, judging by the audience reaction at the cinema I was in, I feel I may be one of the only dissenting voices. For our adolescent film-going public, whose penchants for cars and guns, swearing and drugs, sex and dance music dumbs down our already culturally malnourished society, it probably fits the bill. Who knows, maybe Vaughan tried to make a film specifically for our imbecilic youth? He is certainly conceited enough.

But for the rest of us, who expect a little more from our visits to the big white screen, it is an uncomfortably embarrassing and painful experience.

Verdict - Posh boys don’t swear well.

David Stoller
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