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Layer Cake

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Daniel Craig (Road to Perdition; Enduring Love) stars as a taciturn drug dealer with no name planning an early retirement who is lured by his boss (Kenneth Cranham) into a transaction involving pills stolen from a Serbian mob boss while also locating a business partner's wayward daughter. What unfurls is an intricate, violent series of events that will facilitate Craig's salvation or his downfall.

Although making his directorial debut, Matthew Vaughn is no stranger to the quirky, cockney-filled cinematic Brit mean streets, having produced pal Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch (interestingly, Vaughn's sophomore project will be assuming the reins of the X-Men franchise). By contrast, the characters here are not uniformly cast as moronic gangsters, but quasi-businessmen in a corporate structure pushing a commodity, dining in opulent country clubs and living in Ikea-furnished flats.

As explicated by a criminal kingpin, devilishly portrayed by Michael Gambon, the term "layer cake" refers to the different levels of British society, whether the elite class, the business sect or the criminal underworld. Their shared aspiration is the desire to enlarge their status, or, to paraphrase Gambon, to diminish the number of people whose orders you must follow while conversely increasing the number who must follow yours.

As wielded by Vaughn and writer J.J. Connolly, the colloquialism becomes not just the film's title, but a metaphor for a broader interpretation of the idiom (indeed, a metaphor for itself). Layer Cake's multiple, fragmented plot threads pile atop each other, eventually congealing into a cohesive treat. Moreover, the film considers how one's chosen path, even if as buried as the bottom level of a multi-tier dessert, is the irrevocable arbiter of one's fate. --Neil Morris

Layer Cake opens Friday at Galaxy Cinema, Rialto Theater and Carolina Theatre in Chapel Hill and Durham.

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