Let’s get meta: That’s Sir Michael Gambon sitting in the very chair where I wrote this recommendation of the film in which he and it appear: Matthew Vaughn’s stylish and hard-edged Layer Cake. Gambon plays wily drug kingpin Eddie Temple in one of the great British gangster films (which is saying something, they have been making outstanding movies about guns and geezers over here for three quarters of a century).
The film centers on cocaine middleman “Mr. X”, played convincingly by a pre-James Bond Daniel Craig. One of the many things the film gets right about the illegal drug trade is that it includes people like Mr. X who think they can make big money while remaining untouched by the damage that drugs do downstream and the violence and immorality of the kingpins who call the shots upstream. Mr. X tells himself he is just a businessman whose commodity happens to be illegal, and that he will simply leave the drug trade behind him when he is financially secure. But when drug honcho Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham) gives him an unusual assignment, his assumptions are shattered and he quickly gets in way, way over his head. Meanwhile, he develops a serious case of the hots for a low-level gangster wannabe’s girlfriend (played by Siena Miller…rumor has it that she and Craig prepared for their sex scenes together Lee Strasberg-style).
The supporting cast is uniformly strong, with a standout performance by Colm Meaney as a long-time gangster. There are some over-the-top camera shots by Vaughn which some people found self-conscious and annoying, but they work well given the kinetic story line. And Gambon’s soliloquy on “the facts of life” is as quotable and as well-delivered as anyone could ask.
p.s. This film is rated R with an exclamation point, so by all means don’t bring the kids.
p.p.s. Vaughn shot three different endings for this movie, all of which I’ve watched and he definitely picked the right one.