Who'd have thought it, eh? Matthew Vaughn - - husband of Claudia Schiffer, friend of Madonna and producer of Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels - - can now add "not-too-shabby film director" to his CV. When Guy Ritchie bailed on helming this super-slick adaptation of JJ Connolly's crime novel, the news that Vaughn was taking over raised more than a few eyebrows. But it's fair to say that he's pulled it off, crafting a film of immense style and verve that proves him to be as polished a filmmaker as his erstwhile partner.
Still, let's not get too carried away. After all, Layer Cake isn't going to change the world. But as a late entry to the bloody canon of British gangster flicks that spread like the clap in the wake of Lock, Stock and Snatch, it's an impressive and worthy addition to the genre.
To Vaughn's credit, he's surrounded himself with top-notch collaborators - - notably DoP Ben Davis, who reveals a great eye for London compositions day or night. He's helped too, in no small measure, by Connolly's densely plotted script, which may take one convoluted detour too many in its latter stages but is nevertheless smart and fast-paced.
Then there's his cast. For so long now, Daniel Craig has been talked about as The Next Big Thing. Here, he finally gets the role that should make him a star: a nameless, cocksure hero who oozes blue-eyed charisma and streetwise swagger. But the supporting cast - including Michael Gambon's tanned tycoon, Kenneth Cranham's reptilian crime boss and Colm Meaney's pernicious hood - play their part too. Vaughn also finds room for Lock, Stock stalwart Dexter Fletcher, not to mention Jude Law's current squeeze Sienna Miller.
What's more, the debut director shows a sure hand at mixing macho heroics, mucky humour and bursts of ultra-violence: witness the bloody and brutal café scene where Craig's righthand man beats the living crap out of an old acquaintance to the sound of Duran Duran's `Ordinary World'. It's just one of the many smart soundtrack choices that inject the film with added zip and zest. A tasty debut, then, its sharply suited exterior clothing a tough inner confidence.
The Brit gangster pic gets a designer makeover in this stylishly executed piece of superior entertainment. Eat your heart out, Mr Ritchie.