"Opera tonight. The Damnation of Faust. Man sells his soul to the devil, it all ends in tears. These arrangements usually do."
— Eddie Temple
Layer Cake (2004) is a British crime film.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 protagonist gets double-crossed, 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.
Batman Gambit: Eddie banks on Mr. X's success of getting the pills 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.
Trevor: "Just like the old days, Shanks. A nice bit of armed robbery."
Big Bad Ensemble: The Serbian drug trafficker, Eddie Temple, and Jimmy Price. All three are leaders of prominent criminal organizations, with various motivations for inciting the plot. Eddie Temple is the most benevolent one, and X comes to work for him.
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.
Curb-Stomp Battle: Morty against Freddie, for managing morty 10 years inside and then asking for handouts for the first time they meet afterward, and later Gene against XXXX, for killing Jimmy Price. See Extreme Melee Revenge below.
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.
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 Serbian drug trafficker has one who's actually named Dragan. He's such a tough dragon that he never comes close to getting defeated.
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".
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 pills for good. He knows that the Serbians are satisfied enough with the death of those who steal their drugs.
Faux Affably Evil: Several of the gangster characters, particularly Morty and Gene, Eddie Temple, and the protagonist himself.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Schrödinger's 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.
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 are content with the deaths of those who stole from them.
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.
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.
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.
The Villain Knows Where You Live: The protagonist is going to meet his girlfriend at a hotel rendezvous when he gets abducted by a Diabolical Mastermind gangster, and at the end of their "interview", he's casually dropped off at his home, which the other guy wouldn't know unless he'd been keeping close tabs on him.
Villain Protagonist: Almost all the characters are drug dealers and gangsters, including X, the main character.
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.
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
Witty Banter: Lampshaded when XXXX goes to negotiate with Eddie Temple about a buyer for the stolen ecstasy.
Eddie: Hello, young man. Thank you for coming at such short notice. I hope you didn't feel too summoned? How are you?
XXXX: I'm in the best of health, Mr. Temple. Thank you for asking. How are you keeping?
Eddie: I'm very well.
XXXX: How was the performance of Faust?
Eddie: Complex. No wonder it took him sixty years to write it.
XXXX: How's the family?
Eddie: What the fuck is this? A vicar's tea party?
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.