I liked Layer Cake the first time I saw it, when it was called Carlito's Way

A few months ago everyone went ga ga over Layer Cake, a British crime noir starring everybody's favorite Bond replacement, Daniel Craig. On the surface, Layer Cake has style, a serpentine plot, Sienna Miller, and Cockney accents galore (it was directed by one of Guy Ritchie's producers). Unfortunately, all this style and panache and cockney rhetorical questions (Wha' does it mean? Wha' do you think it means, you twit?) cannot hide the fact that the movie just plain rips off Carlito's Way, an early 90's Brian de Palma flick starring Al Pacino as an ex-gangster out of jail but not out of the life, and Sean Penn as his afro-ed, well rounded lawyer. Sure, the few upper-class and/or normal British accents lend the movie a veneer of class, and sure there's an almost naked Sienna Miller, but every strongpoint of Layer Cake is matched by a stronger aspect in Carlito's Way.

First off, there's nothing in Layer Cake that can compare to Sean Penn's character. Sean Penn was just an actor back then, more concerned with his craft than with being a political commentator. His performance as a crooked lawyer makes the movie. Al Pacino's muted, mature bravado trumps Daniel Craig's icy calculations, while an almost nude Sienna Miller cannot quite beat a really nude (topless) Penelope Ann Miller.

In the end, it's the endings. The ending of Layer Cake surprises you, whereas the ending of Carlito's Way shocks you, despite the beginning. And that to me makes all the difference.

P.S. It is also worth noting that this movie is a bit of a commentary on DePalma's and Pacino's last collaboration--Scarface. Further, the French magazine or somesuch Cahiers du Cinema pronounced it the best of the 90s...(Thanks, www.allmovie.com!)

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