"I'm not a gangster," says Daniel Craig's dapper drug dealer at the beginning of Layer Cake. "I'm a businessman." And he's a successful one at that. With a million quid stashed ready for early retirement, he's scuppered when a menacing Mr Big (Kenneth Cranham) asks him to track down the smack-addicted daughter of a wealthy friend (Michael Gambon). Soon our anti-hero's 'one last job' threatens to do for him, in what amounts to Lock, Stock without the laughs.
Lock, Stock's producer, Matthew Vaughn, stepped up to direct this when Guy Ritchie got too busy with other projects and being Mr Madonna. But Vaughn's no slouch behind the camera and though Layer Cake lacks the charisma and wit of the pair's underrated Snatch, it's slickly shot and enjoyable, with one outstanding scene: the cafe-set revenge of an embittered ex-con. Filmed unflinchingly with you-are-there energy, it's powerful and cinematic. You know you're watching a movie, not some TV drama blown up for the big screen.
"HE'S JUST LIKE US"
Craig also comes into his own here, shocked and appalled by what he's witnessing but nevertheless grateful this brutal bloke is on his side. His character is a smug, moral, hypocrite, but the actor's skill is that we don't immediately twig this. He remains likeable, with an everyman quality emphasised by a voiceover-heavy script that makes his get-what-you-can mentality feel sadly familiar. He's just like us.
The screenplay could have done with being streamlined. Adapted by JJ Connolly from his own novel, it tries to cram in too much, with characters forever giving each other information as the action replays on screen. It feels like there are flashbacks within flashbacks and gets rather long-winded as the plot grows more convoluted. The theme recalls The Long Good Friday; the execution isn't as impressive. But the killer conclusion ensures Layer Cake still cuts it.