'Layer Cake' a Crime Thriller

NPR's Bob Mondello reviews the new British crime thriller, "Layer Cake." The film was directed by Matthew Vaughn. It stars Daniel Craig and Michael Gambon. The tricky noir plot is about a drug dealer planning to retire after one last errand for his boss.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Film producer Matthew Vaughn made a name for himself by raising the money for British gangland movies with titles like "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels." Now he's stepped behind the camera to direct one. It's called "Layer Cake," and Bob Mondello says it's not at all half-baked.

BOB MONDELLO reporting:

As in any business, drug dealing has layers of authority. There are street dealers and midlevel dealers, suppliers and enforcers, all the way up to kingpins, who you might call the icing on the layer cake. Our story centers on a pretty sophisticated midlevel player who has a well-developed theory about the business he's in.

(Soundbite of "Layer Cake")

Mr. DANIEL CRAIG: (As XXXX) Always remember that one day all this drug monkey business will be legal. They won't leave it to people like me, not when they finally figure out how much money there is to be made. Recreational Drugs PLC, giving people what they want. Good times today, stupid tomorrow

MONDELLO: This guy keeps his name to himself. In the credits, he's just a row of X's. But he's hardly anonymous. He's so respected that the kingpin and his drug gang hands him all sorts of offbeat assignments, from finding a colleague's daughter who's disappeared to getting rid of one million tablets of ecstasy that an obnoxious lesser gangster has come by even more illicitly than usual. Those two assignments intersect, as it happens, and soon there are layers upon layers of complication: Serbian gangsters bent on revenge, assassins who get assassinated, dealers who get dealt. There's enough intrigue to fuel a whole series of gangster movies, actually, including the complication that our guy really wants to retire and that his kingpin knows that.

(Soundbite of "Layer Cake")

Unidentified Man: You know why people like you can't leave this business? Because you make too much money for people like me.

MONDELLO: Matthew Vaughn clearly learned something from producing the films "Snatch" and "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels." They were clever and frenetic movies, but kind of scattered. "Layer Cake," while it uses a lot of the same editing and digital tricks, is much more focused.

It also centers on a more interesting star, Daniel Craig, who is apparently being mentioned as a possible James Bond at some point. He'd make a pretty cool one; he looks a little like Steve McQueen, has a wry way with a line and is believably seductive when an attractive woman comes his way. He also handles himself smoothly when things get violent, which they do in "Layer Cake" with an elaborateness that will appeal to the Quentin Tarantino crowd and a level of trickiness that keeps the tone pretty upbeat. In other words, there are layers to "Layer Cake," and twists enough to please even folks who haven't been pleased since they saw "The Usual Suspects." I'm Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of music)

(Credits)

ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): I'm Robert Siegel.

NORRIS: And I'm Michele Norris. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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