Borrowing some cast members, genre, structure, and some style from his friend and collaborator Guy Ritchie, Layer Cake marked the directorial debut of Matthew Vaughn. Based on the novel of the same name (and scripted by that boo's author), this is the story of a successful nameless (listed in the credits as XXXX) drug dealer/mob middleman who finds himself in one messy and complex situation just on the eve of retirement.
Deciding he's gotten as far as he wanted in the world of crime, XXXX plans to retire for good. His plans are interrupted when he's asked to sell a shipment of 1 million ecstasy pills. It should be relatively easy, but matters are complicated by the fact that the pills are stolen from a Serbian war criminal who will kill him if he sells them, and a ruthless London crime boss who will kill him if he doesn't.
What follows is a zany, wild, and energetic game through a tangled web of colorful characters, all kinds of intricate and layered subplots, and the tough decisions XXXX has to make if he wants out of his Catch-22 situation alive. As the title inplies, there's a lot going on here, and it can be a tad hard to follow at times, but I've read the novel, and actually found this to be a bit more enjoyable and easier to follow than that. Even having read the book, I wasn't able to keep it all straight, but I get the broad gist, and that's the most important thing.
Vaughn basically employs a "Ritchie-lite" style, dialing down on some of the freneticness, and reserving the amount of flashy camera tricks and showmanship, save for a cool scene where an assault is shown from the perspective of the victim. The intricate, interweaving, and complicated plotlines remain the same though, but the way they are executed is somewhat more straightforward.
The cast has a lot of well knowns and Ritchie players, but they do a fine job with the material, especially a scene stealing Michael Gambon and the always awesome and charismatic Daniel Craig in a fun pre-Bond role. I like Sienna Miller, but it's a shame she's pretty much wasted in what could have been a great femme fatale role that ends up going nowhere and having no real purpose.
All in all, a fun and stylish British crime caper. It's a mess at times, but still highly enjoyable and shows signs of the great things Vaughn has come to do since.