I approached Layer Cake with a limited knowledge of Matthew Vaughn, I knew he was the cohort of Guy Ritchie for Lock Stock and Snatch, two films which viewing nowadays really seem dated and look much thinner than on the original viewing. There's also the connection with X-Men, which came out of nowhere. Vaughn was hurriedly announced as a replacement Director, pulled into the film and then hurriedly left once again.
So it was with interest that I watched Layer Cake, the directorial debut for Vaughn as he broke with his filmmaking partner Ritchie. Ritchie went onto struggle with his film Revolver, while critical positivity was passed on Vaughn's work.
As soon as the DVD was in the drive and before the film was even playing, the style is noticeable, in the most surprising of places, the menus. The film continues with the great style with a superb introduction which gives you the necessary background for the film, lets you know the main character and what he stands for, and stamps a mark on the style and direction of the rest of the movie.
When looking at the film overall and then looking back at Ritchie's work there's something very evident that could be said. Taking the gangster duo used so often as an example, it's clear that Ritchie's talent is the rough, common, geezer who shouts, leaps in and speaks before they think. Whereas Vaughn's talent is the slick brains of the operation, the man who stands silent at the back and orders the muscle about. In terms of direction, that's exactly what Vaughn is. He's the slick, controlled, and style filled half of the duo, and through Layer Cake it really does show.
Throughout the film Vaughn is concentrating on polished, bold shots and colours, with some great cuts and transitions between scenes. What is great though is unlike many other stylish films it retains its own style throughout. All too often you watch a film that has a strong style fade halfway through as the filmmakers lose the sense of the film within the complexities of movie production. With Layer Cake the styles is held firm from start to end and seems to have been thought of through every single scene.
Another aspect of the style that stands right out is the music. Some of the track choices are unusually chosen and yet fit so well with the scenes and the film. Overall Vaughn has really pulled together a superbly style heavy and slick film which doesn't fall short on the story either.
The script is very well written and brought to the screen, although sometimes it can prove a little complex to follow and you may find yourself playing catch up in the middle of the movie, it forces you to do some thinking for yourself and doesn't let you just sit back and be force fed.
Fletcher is an actor I remember from TV's Press Gang, and everything I've seen him in since he's provided an engaging and enjoyable performance. He's a very believable and natural actor. Meaney was, to me and I'm sure many others, Chief O'Brien from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and here he just blasts that character away from my mind and gives a fantastically restrained and convincing performance of a hard man.
Craig is an enjoyable surprise too, having seen him only in Munich I wasn't too sure how he would perform, and one thing is very clear. He's going to make a great Bond. He gives a subtle and at times totally confused and beaten down performance. There's also a magical moment in film history as he plays around all bond-like with a gun...perhaps it was the moment that won him the role.
Presented: 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Strong, bold colours are represented well throughout the film, and there are a number of night scenes which are shot well keeping a strong black level. In fact throughout the quality of cinematography and lighting is strong, and there's no evidence of poor picture quality or failing levels during the DVD.
Presented: Dolby Digital 5.1
The audio is as bold as the rest of the film and is portrayed well on a 5.1 speaker system. There are a number of scenes which make use of the rear speakers and pull you into the film, and some stronger scenes where the music or effects kick in and heighten the experience of the characters on screen.
Presented: Audio Commentary with Matthew Vaughn and J.J. Connolly
Unfortunately, as is often the case, this was a single DVD offering of the film, not the dual disc that is currently on offer for purchase.
Now the first thing I'm going to talk about is something I never mention in reviews because they should be part and parcel of any DVD, it's the menus. It looks like a lot of care has gone into the packaging of the DVD's and their content and so the animated menus are stylish and carry the look and feel of the film, something most menus don't do as they are thrown together by a third party company.
The audio commentary is really interesting with Vaughn picking things to say about each scene, continually trying to keep the commentary moving from scene to scene and finding some genuinely insightful things to say about the script and the filming.
There's nothing too deep talked about here, but what is talked about covers the whole aspect of the film, from the actors and their process to the choice of music on scenes and the use of the helicopter for filming.
These reasons made it a particularly enjoyable commentary and gave some useful insights into the process behind this film and the Director himself.
Look for the hidden 'e' giving you random rules of being a gangster.
Despite not getting a chance to see the second DVD which carries a host of extras, I'd still rate this really highly. The film is superb and you can see why Vaughn suddenly got snapped up for Hollywood, although he chose to back out of the X-Men movie.
It's packed with style and superb dialogue and scenes, portrayed very well with a diverse and strong group of actors. I just can't wait to see what else Vaughn has to offer.
IMDB Film details