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"Opera tonight. The Damnation of Faust. Man sells his soul to the devil, it all ends in tears. These arrangements usually do."—Eddie Temple
A not-so-legal London businessman (Daniel Craig), planning for an early retirement, gets in slightly over his head during one final deal. Things quickly escalate, until our hero loses control and, as they say across the pond, everything goes tits up.
The star-studded cast features a plethora of British celebs, some of whom were already famous before this flick (see Hey, it's that Guy), and some having struck fame state-side after Layer Cake, particularly our protagonist.
Directed by Mathew Vaughan, and based on a novel by J.J. Connolly, Layer Cake is a clever, character-driven take on the classic gangster flick, rounded out by a brief romance, genuinely unexpected twists, and an overload of Britishisms.
This film contains examples of:
- Accent Relapse: Cody and Tiptoes, who are introduced as toffs, are just using silly accents on some impressionable female tourists. They revert to their London accents soon after.
- Affably Evil: Several of the gangster characters, particularly Morty and Gene, Eddie Temple, and the protagonist himself.
- Apologetic Attacker: Sidney
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign: See Fake Nationality below.
- Batman Gambit: Eddie banks on Mr. X's success of getting the ecstasies off the Serbians so the two can make a drug deal for themselves. X delivers, but Eddie holds his folks under gunpoint and withholds any payment for him. It turns out that X already foresees this and ambushes Eddie's transporters
- Berserk Button: If you've just run into the guy who your incompetence landed in jail for ten years, it's probably best not to ask for money as soon as you've said hello.
- Black and Grey Morality
- Black Comedy Burst: At heart it's a brutal film about the perils of the drug trade, but there's an awful lot of Gallows Humour about too.
- Book Ends: The film starts with an armed robbery of a payroll van in the 60's, and ends with an armed robbery of a drug shipment.
Trevor: "Just like the old days, Shanks. A nice bit of armed robbery."
- Billing Displacement: The film advertising prominently places Sienna Miller with Craig, even though she plays a minor character in the film.
- Brains and Brawn: Most noticeably with Gene and his bruiser, but obvious throughout most of the gangster circles.
The Duke (to XXXX): You wouldn't be so fuckin' flash if you didn't have him behind you!"
Gene: Yeah, well he fuckin' has, hasn't he?
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: a particularly twisted example. At the end of the movie, X turns around and tells the audience, "My name? If you know that, you'd be as clever as me." Because he turns around, he can't see that Sidney is coming to him with a gun.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Sidney, who shoots XXXX at the very end, perhaps fatally.
- Cluster F-Bomb: The film contains 150 F-bombs, which averages out to one every 42 seconds.
- Coincidental Broadcast: In the book only.
- Companion Cube: Gene and his guns, especially his silenced pistol.
Morty: I hope you don't tell the other guns you have a favourite!
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: Having your chest ironed.
- Cool Guns: Amongst many others, Gene keeps a P08/Luger and a Thompson submachine gun in his cabinet.
- Council Estate: The grim location of Kinky's crack den.
- Covers Always Lie: The cover of the film's post-Casino Royale DVD release shows Craig in a James Bond-style pose. In the film, he does that in only one scene as a joke.
- Crazy Jealous Guy: Sidney
- Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: Deconstructed and then reconstructed by the end. At first XXXX proclaims his job to be an excellent method of employment with good retirement options. When he finally does end up facing the rest of the criminal underworld, however, they're all either idiots or terrifying cold-hearted thugs and all with their own flaws and quirks. XXXX also finds out how much killing someone affects your conscience and peace of mind. In the end, however, the trope is at least partially reconstructed by Eddie Temple with an incredibly cool speech about the nature of the criminal game.
You're born, you take shit. You get out in the world, you take more shit. You climb a little higher, you take less shit. Till one day you're up in the rarefied atmosphere and you've forgotten what shit even looks like. Welcome to the layer cake, son.
- Dangerously Genre Savvy: X after Eddie robs him his pills. Turns out he's already planned to ambush Eddie's mercs and rob his pills back.
Did I really think Eddie's gonna give me three million for those pills? Did I fuck.
- Destroy the Evidence: XXXX burns the clothes he was wearing to assassinate Jimmy, bit forgot to retrieve the cartridge case.
- Diabolical Mastermind: Eddie Temple; also, probably whoever the head of the Serbians is, given that Dragan is at a near Keyser Soze level of scary, and he's a subordinate of someone who might not even be the main guy.
- Diabolus Ex Machina: The end of the movie: after winning at everything, he walks out of the club, prepared to ride off into the sunset with the girl, and is instantly shot to death by a minor character with no previously shown violent tendencies. And apparently, the test audiences wanted it that way.
- Diegetic Switch: Used with the infamous "Ordinary World" scene; the Duran Duran track can be heard faintly in the background before Morty gets his money out.
- Doesn't Like Guns: XXXX states this outright. In the novel, Cody also has this attitude, which makes sense, since he's a con man.
- Double Standard Rape (Male on Male): Averted; it's treated as horrifying. Crazy Larry's treatment of men led to at least one man committing suicide and to being killed by Gene, himself possibly a victim of Larry.
- The Dragon: Actually named Dragan, however, he's such a tough dragon that he never comes close to getting defeated. His employer also isn't the Big Bad of the story.
- Also Mr. Troop, ex-soldier and Eddie Temple's right-hand man for dirty work.
- Drugs Are Bad: Used very sparingly for a film based entirely around the drug business; the worst we see is stupid coked-up gansters and the death of Kinky from an overdose in his crackhouse. And it turns out Kinky was deliberately spiked by Eddie Temple's "fixers".
- Drowning My Sorrows: XXXX blitzes on pills and whisky after killing Jimmy.
- Even Evil Has Standards: The Designated Antagonist's ideology makes the gangster protagonists look good by comparison. Also, in the book, one of the gangsters owns a sex shop and has a practice of telling someone asking for child porn to come back later that night, at which point they will be ambushed and beaten to a pulp.
- Extreme Melee Revenge: Morty is quite ticked off with Freddie. Gene also begins to deliver one to XXXX when he finds out he killed Jimmy Price.
- The Faceless: Dragan, until the very end of the film.
- Fade to White
- Fake Nationality: The Serbians are played by Romanians who, when not speaking English, speak Romanian.
- False-Flag Operation: X fakes a police raid to extract the ecstasies from splinter gang, as well as to trick Dragan into conceding his people's stolen ecstasies for good. He knows that the Serbians are satisfied enough with the death of those who steal their drugs.
- Fat and Skinny: Liverpudlians Trevor and Shanks. Trevor is a big, laid-back black guy and Shanks is white, skinny and highly twitchy.
- Gangsta Style: Done by the Duke's gang. Probably an instance where the people doing this were supposed to look stupid.
- Gayngster: Crazy Larry, who was also a Depraved Homosexual, who raped straight men and strangled the odd rent-boy. Gene killed him with the rare gun mentioned below, as a sort of Mercy Kill because Larry was over the edge.
- Generic Ethnic Crime Gang: The Serbians.
- Get Rich Quick Scheme: Jimmy's plan to steal a huge batch of ecstasy from beneath the noses of a crime ring.
- Grievous Bottley Harm: Freddie takes a ketchup bottle to the face.
- Gun Stripping: Gene does this when showing X his collection of guns. X remarks that he bets Gene could do this blindfolded, and Gene replies that he has done so.
- Headphones Equal Isolation: The Scouse gangsters have a hitman on staff who unnervingly is always wearing headphones; turns out he's learning French for a class and is hilariously bad at it.
- Heel Face Turn: Gene after hearing Eddie's tape
- Jerkass: Mr. X himself. But Crazy Larry takes the cake.
- I Need a Freaking Drink:
Gene: Now, if Freddie dies, you're either in the dock with Morty, or you're in the witness box putting him away. Think about that.
XXXX: *beat* You know, I will have one of those.
- Kubrick Stare: Used as Match Cut Book Ends when XXXX decides to kill Jimmy
- Lighter and Softer: The film mostly fits this compared to the novel, as in the novel, pretty much every gangster has a Hair-Trigger Temper and all are a lot more thuggish; likewise, the protagonist is a jerkass, only slightly more polished than his associates. However, the ending of the film is darker than that of the novel.
- London Gangster: Hangs a major lampshade on most of the tropes; most of the characters are almost nothing like typical London Gangster stereotypes.
XXXX': ...and avoid like the fucking plague loud, attention-seeking, wannabe gangsters, in it for the glory, to be a face, to be a name. They don't mean to fuck up. They just do.
- Loveable Rogue: the two con artists the protagonist occasionally hires.
- MacGuffin: Eddie Temple's daughter whom the protagonist is supposed to find but is never actually found by him nor appears on screen.
- Match Cut: Used several times within the film, most notably to book end the assassination sequence.
- Narrator: XXXX serves as this at the start of the film in order to provide some exposition about drugs and crime.
- No Name Given: "My name? If you knew that, you'd be as clever as me." He's referred to as XXXX in the credits.
- Not So Above It All: The protagonist likes to consider himself "not a gangster, only a businessman whose commodity happens to be cocaine", but is increasingly drawn into the grittier side of his profession.
- One Last Job: See Retirony
- Pragmatic Villainy: After seeing their stolen ecstasy's holdout busted by the cops, the Serbs let X live. Granted, they don't know the bust was staged by X, but the idea is that they don't prolong bloodfeuds for a lost cause.
- Pretty Little Headshots: On both Jimmy and Mr. Lucky.
- Product Promotion Parade: A surreal fantasy version featuring a pharmacy/boutique full of FCUK-branded cocaine and ecstasy; the founder of French Connection was one of the films producers.
- Professional Killer:
- Inverted with the protagonist, in the film at least. XXXX hates guns and killing, and when he does assassinate Price it affects him so much afterwards that he can barely function for an indeterminately long montage of drinking, sedation, and hiding in his apartment watching TV and occasionally twitching.
- Although played straight with Dragan and Gene.
- Rare Guns: The gun that the protagonist borrows from Gene and kills his boss with is an obscure Chinese military pistol, which makes it understandable that police were easily able to trace the gun and identify its use in an earlier murder.
- Reality Subtext: The actor, Jamie Foreman, who plays the Duke, is the son of an actual London Gangster, Freddie Foreman, who was an associate of the Kray Twins.
- Retirony: Not by enemy gangsters, but by the jealous ex-boyfriend.
- Reverse Mole: Jimmy Price, who's been planning on shopping XXXX and Gene to the police so he can make a clean getaway with XXXX's money.
- Room Disservice: How the Magnificent Bastard gangster has the protagonist brought to him, preventing him from having sex with Sienna Miller.
- Scary Black Man: Averted by the two main black characters, Morty and Trevor, who are very soft spoken and seem perpetually calm. Eventually played straight when the idiot who landed Morty in jail for ten years wanders in off the street and asks him for money. Carnage ensues.
- Schrodingers Cat: While surviving and leaving England in the book, the protagonist is implied to die in the movie. Connolly does write a sequel book titled Viva La Madness, but whether it's going to be adapted for theatre remains to be seen.
- Scope Snipe: Used against Mr. Lucky. Triggers an Oh Crap from XXXX.
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules: The Serbians are are an evil version of this. While a fortune in drugs was stolen from them, it turns out that this is just a pittance and they content with the deaths of those who stole from them.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: After Morty's Extreme Melee Revenge;
XXXX: What the fuck?!
Morty: ...I might not be around for a while.
- Sharp-Dressed Man: XXXX sure looks good in a nice suit.
- Shout-Out: When Eddie Temple has the protagonist kidnapped, their conversation is filmed overlooking construction in the Docklands area of London. This is a reference to The Long Good Friday, in which London Gangster Harold Shand wanted to develop that area as part of his efforts to become a respectable businessman. Thus, Eddie has succeeded where Harold failed.
- Shower of Angst: XXXX takes one after he shoots Jimmy.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: The use of Duran Duran during this particular scene.
- Spanner in the Works: The tiniest loose ends can get you in the end.
- Spot of Tea: Naturally, being a British film... but horrifically subverted.
Morty: But let's forget about all that. Let's have a cup of tea, Mr Hurst.
- Stuffed Into The Freezer: The Duke
- Terrorist Without a Cause: The Serbian war criminals (Neo-Nazis in the book) who have largely given up their ideological interests to be brutal and successful professional criminals. Also an example of Western Terrorists.
- This Is Sparta: YES! FUCKING! PLEASE!
- Title Drop:
"Welcome to the layer cake."
- Too Dumb to Live: The Duke and the rest of his cohorts.
- Took a Level In Badass: XXXX spends much of the film thinking he's in control and on the top of his game... only to be played by someone else further up the chain. After he kills Jimmy he becomes a lot more ruthless and thorough.
- Too Soon: In the novel, in the scene where X tries to use the Sniper to kill one of the Ruthless Foreign Gangsters, an American tourist is mistaken for the target, and is killed by the Sniper. This is partially Played for Laughs, because when the actual target runs away, the Sniper refuses to shoot him, as he was only paid for one killing that day. It's indicated that the death is spun as a casualty of the War On Terror When the film was made, distributors thought that this wouldn't go over well, especially in America, so it instead became a scene where the Sniper got killed by a Scope Snipe.
- Unwitting Pawn: XXXX, for most of the film, is being manipulated by either Jimmy or Eddie.
- Villainy Discretion Shot: Justified; the protagonist himself finds the "end users" of his business quite distasteful, and steers clear of any involvement with them, so no one is shown becoming addicted to or overdosing on his drugs.
- Villain Protagonist: Well, X is a drug dealer...
- Villain with Good Publicity: Eddie Temple (Eddie Ryder in the novel)
- Warrior Poet: Played partly for laughs with Gene and his habit of meditating with guns through Gun Stripping and the like, although his personality fits the trope, being generally a fairly mellow guy.
- Wicked Cultured: Eddie Temple, especially, who is an opera lover and has a vast library in his estate; his counterpart in the novel attends opera but doesn't seem to actually like it much, although he has an unusual interest in Buddhism due to a Granola Girl second wife
- Xanatos Gambit: Jimmy's plan with Mr. X. Why does he order X to find Eddie's daughter? To kidnap her. He knows X's plan to retire, and he's been in a deep financial shit because of stupid investments and his feud with Eddie. If Eddie's thugs kill X, Jimmy can cut his losses; if X gets Eddie's daughter, Jimmy can use her to blackmail Eddie to bailing him out. Fortunately, Eddie intervenes.
- Xtreme Kool Letterz: The film was released as L4yer Cak3 in the United States.
- And the UK DVD release too