Layer Cake US Theatrical Release: May 13, 2005 (Sony Pictures Classics) US DVD Release: August 23, 2005 Running Time: 1:45:14 (19 chapter stops) Rating: R (For Strong Brutal Violence, Sexuality, Nudity, Pervasive Language and Drug Use) Video: 2.40:1 Anamorphic (Extra Features: 1.85:1 non-anamorphic) Audio: English DD5.1, French DD2.0 (Extra Features: English DD2.0) Subtitles: English, French, Chinese, Korean, Thai (Extra Features: None) TV-Generated Closed Captions: English (Extra Features: None) Menus: Background and brief transition animation Packaging: Standard keepcase; insert has a Layer Cake poster image on one side and cover images of other titles on the other. MSRP: $26.96 THE WAY I FEEL ABOUT IT: 3.5/5 Matthew Vaughn, producer of the cult hit British gangster comedies Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, tries his hand at directing with Layer Cake, a less humorous crime action/ drama that's a fine take on an old standard of a concept ("One last caper and then I'm going to retire!"). It navigates most of its plot twists and double-crosses with aplomb, but suffers from one subplot that shows up out of nowhere, never really explains itself, and manages to knock the whole film off its tracks in its final moments. An experienced drug middleman (Daniel Craig) -- we'll call him X -- who's seen enough to know that unnecessary risks are best avoided and that a low profile is key, is preparing to give up his life of crime and settle down to a quieter existence. Of course, we all know what happens to criminals (and cops, for that matter) in screenplays when they decide to retire: whatever plans have been set are guaranteed to go awry. Jimmy (Kenneth Cranham), the second-rate crime lord just above our protagonist in the drug dealing food chain, seems to be reading his mind when he informs X that people like him can't ever retire because "people like you make too much money for people like me." Jimmy also has an unusual mission in store for his trusty middleman -- the drug-addled daughter of one of Jimmy's associates has run off with a junkie, and he wants X to find her. Why he wants X to handle this job more suited for a PI is a mystery that will eventually be explained by one of Layer Cake's many surprises. In the meantime, X tries to find out what he can from his contacts on the street. The junkie hunt isn't the only curveball thrown X's way. He also ends up trying to broker a deal for a shipment of ecstasy acquired by a ridiculous character known as the Duke (Jamie Foreman), who appears to have seen one too many action movies and fancies himself a real badass, but who is in way over his head. The real gangsters don't take him terribly seriously -- except when he has millions of quid worth of drugs in hand. X, who wouldn't be anywhere near this transaction if he had any say in the matter, knows that the Duke is trouble, but this particular deal brings new meaning to the word -- the Duke has ripped off a gang of Serbians who also happen to be psychotic war criminals. X's situation becomes more and more desperate as the film progresses through a series of misdirections and betrayals. He can't find the Duke or the missing girl, his right-hand man gets, shall we say, "sidetracked" by an old acquaintance, and an unstoppable Serbian assassin is closing in. Meanwhile, greater powers are taking an unwelcome interest in his activities. X has always managed to keep his own operation running smoothly and avoid unnecessary trouble, but this time, all kinds of trouble has found him. Every now and then, a blonde femme fatale (Sienna Miller) briefly pops into the plot. She has very little to say or do beyond simply distracting X (and providing a little eye candy). Perhaps her character was more fleshed-out in the original novel, along with her reasons for pursuing X and his reasons for responding to her advances. Within the context of the film, however, this subplot doesn't make much sense. X is portrayed as a very cautious, thoughtful businessman -- not someone who would repeatedly take time out from the most chaotic and dangerous situation of his life in order to phone up some random tart that hit on him in a pub. Perhaps it's meant to show that he has a weakness for women, but as it plays here, it just seems completely incongruous and could have been discarded entirely without harming the film. The extra twist it provides feels cheap, tacked-on and unnecessary. The performances are gritty and right on target. In addition to the actors mentioned, Colm Meany as an experienced crook and Michael Gambon as a seemingly omnipotent criminal mastermind stand out. It can be difficult to keep all of the minor hoods straight as they come and go throughout the film, but that doesn't hinder the viewer in following the action, and it helps to make the film more rewarding upon repeat viewing. Despite that one subplot that just doesn't feel right, Layer Cake holds its many threads together tightly in a serpentine storyline that should appeal to fans of caper films and convoluted set-ups. Director Vaughn applies humor sparingly and in just the right places, purposely avoiding the conscious effort at wackiness that featured in his previous films. Scenes are never blatantly played for laughs, but the laughs still seem to show up just when things threaten to become too dark. It's not especially innovative, and it has its flaws, but Layer Cake is definitely a solid addition to the genre. THE WAY I SEE IT: 3/5 The image is pretty average in every respect. Colors are good but not spectacular; there is some edge enhancement, albeit generally not to the point of distraction; and detail is not too sharp and not too soft. THE WAY I HEAR IT: 4/5 The sound mix is nicely immersive, with plenty of music and ambient noise in the surround channels. However, it never overpowers the dialogue up front. There are no big explosions or gun battles that would test your system, but the soundtrack does what it does very solidly. THE SWAG: 3/5 (rating combines quality and quantity) Commentary With Director Matthew Vaughn and Writer J. J. Connolly This is a decent track, with varied discussion of the filmmaking, actors, and story development. Commentary fans should enjoy it well enough. The only problem with it is that Connolly often mumbles, which, when combined with his thick accent, makes him difficult to understand at times. Deleted Scenes & Alternative Endings 14 deleted scenes and two alternate endings are included, with a total running time of 21:28. They can be played individually or all in sequence with a director/ writer commentary. They add some interesting angles to the story, although for the most part they weren't missed in the final cut. Some folks may find either or both of the alternate endings superior to the version that ended up in the film. Storyboard Comparisons Two scenes are included, one running about 2 minutes and the other 2.5. The storyboards take up most of the screen, with the actual finished scene playing in a small box in the corner. The view can be swapped using the angle button. Interestingly, all of the storyboard panels feature camera directions and dialogue text, comic book-style. Featurettes Two featurettes are included. They may be played separately or in sequence. Q&A Screening With Matthew Vaughn & Daniel Craig (29.01) This is an interview and audience Q&A conducted at a London screening of the film. It's pretty interesting, and is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The Making Of Layer Cake (5:56) A fairly standard making-of that consists mainly of interview snippets with the cast and director. It has its moments, but is a bit heavy on film clips. It's in non-anamorphic widescreen. Poster Explorations 24 different promo posters can be clicked through using the remote. A nice variety of concepts are featured. Easter Egg If the main menu is left to run through its entire animation, a small 'E' will appear on the right side of the menu. Selecting it and clicking Enter on the remote will randomly bring up one of about a half-dozen "Golden Rules" of crime, narrated by Daniel Craig. They are extremely simple, for example: "keep a very low profile" or "always work in a small team." Silly stuff. If the main menu runs through its animation again, then the 'E' will disappear (and reappear with the next animation cycle). Trailers Three trailers are included. The trailer for Kung Fu Hustle plays automatically when the disc is inserted. It may be skipped. Dave Chappelle: For What It's Worth (1:22) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 non-anamorphic) Kung Fu Hustle (1:38) (DD2.0; 2.35:1 anamorphic) Snatch (1:59) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 anamorphic) SUMMING IT ALL UP The Way I Feel About It: 3.5/5 The Way I See It: 3/5 The Way I Hear It: 4/5 The Swag: 3/5 Layer Cake is an admirable directorial debut from producer Matthew Vaughn. While it inhabits the same genre as his popular films Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, it aims for a darker, more realistic feel without making the mistake of completely abandoning humor. The complex plot holds together and stands up to repeat watching. The DVD quality is presentable, and the extra features are plentiful and worth a look. Viewers who aren't expecting exactly the same feel as its predecessors will very likely enjoy Layer Cake.