The second instalment in this series of articles looks back on the films available for rent in 2005; specifically, the dirty British crime film Layer Cake (2004) and Spanish language semi-biopic The Motorcycle Diaries (2004). Beginning with the film that Guy Ritchie turned down, Layer Cake (which was ultimately directed by Ritchie’s long-time producer friend Matthew Vaughn), sees a pre-Bond Daniel Craig.
Craig stars as an unnamed drug dealer whose plans to take early retirement become unravelled when his boss asks him for one, or rather two, last favours.
With The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and Ocean's Twelve (2004) both popular rentals that year Layer Cake had quite a few contenders in the crime genre, and what with the release of Saw (2004) the year before it would take more than a show of heavy violence to catch audience’s attention.
Though many have argued that Layer Cake pales when compared to the sharper and wittier films offered up by Ritchie and Vaughn’s collaboration it shines in quite a different light to its other crime-based cousins; where Snatch (2000) and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) cut their violence with wonderfully well placed black humour Layer Cake relies on a slicker more serious tone. This is not to the film’s detriment; rather it helps to define the piece as notably different from the other gangster films released during this period of the early 21st Century; as Craig himself says in the film: "I’m not a gangster. I’m a businessman".
What really makes Layer Cake stand out however is its intensity, although it’s a very slick and noticeably cinematic piece the camera work is direct and unavoidable, not just knotting you into the drama but backing you into a corner like a cowed and innocent bystander. The iconic scene in the coffee shop could not be a more perfect demonstration of this unflinching yet utterly captivating style.
On the other hand, The Motorcycle Diaries is a strikingly different film, based on the book by Cuban revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara himself the film depicts a motorcycle road trip undertaken by Che in his youth that he credits with pointing him in the direction of his future life.
Set in 1952 the film is an evocative exploration of morals and motorbikes, two subjects very dear to my own heart. Beautifully shot the film presents a frank and honest depiction of some of the most upsetting consequences of social and governmental corruption. Though all taking place many years before my birth – Guevara himself had been dead some forty years before the film was even made – the issues in The Motorcycle Diaries resonate out across time and space, setting an eye-opening and awe-inspiring story against some of the most fantastic landscape I have witnessed on film.
However, it is the subtly of The Motorcycle Diaries that truly brings the film to life, the motions of the exceedingly well cast actors: Gael García Bernal as Guevara and Rodrigo De La Serna as his friend and biochemist Alberto Granado are brilliantly underplayed whilst the film maker (Walter Salles who won a BAFTA for his achievements) made a conscious decision to focus on the journey rather than the resolution and ultimate conclusion that came about from Guevara’s journey.
Film’s made with a genuine social conscious, one presented not for show but for pride, undiluted and yet pointedly not overwhelming, are few and far between – The Motorcycle Diaries is not simply on this list because it is one of the greatest films of 2005; with competition like Michael Bay’s The Island (2005) and the bomb that was Kingdom of Heaven (2005) can there really be any doubt? No, The Motorcycle Diaries is on this list because it is one of the most well executed, delicately underplayed and beautifully shot adaptations I have ever seen.
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