Film: Layer Cake

"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 provides 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.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The film definitely comes across as a distillation of the novel, being much more tightly plotted, and notably, when the author of the novel, J.J. Connoley, attempted writing a screen play, it was several hundred pages long, and thus he wisely left this task to Mathew Vaughn.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Did XXXX die at the end or not?
  • Anyone Can Die
  • Apologetic Attacker: A distressed Sidney apologizes after he guns down XXXX.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Marcel Iures plays a Serbian drug dealer (Slavo), yet, being a Romanian actor, he speaks Romanian with his crew.
  • Bait and Switch: There's a variation on the Mirror Scare where XXXX, in the middle of an angst-riddled drug- and whisky-fuelled freak out, opens the mirrored bathroom cabinet, music builds and then as he closes it the action suddenly cuts to the next morning, with the character neatly dressed and his problems resolved. It's a very powerful cut, subverting expectations at a moment of high drama.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: When Mr Lucky aims at a target who appears to be Dragan, a shot is fired and we see a Gory Discretion Shot of blood splattered on some leafs. We assume the target was hit, but the next camera shot reveals that it was Mr Lucky who got hit by another sniper.
  • 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.
  • Binocular Shot: Used for when XXXX and Mr Lucky are scoping out the area for the Overt Rendezvous with Dragan.
  • 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.
  • Bookcase Passage: XXXX enters Eddie Temple's vast library through a door that looks like a bookcase.
  • Bookends: 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • British Stuffiness: Eddie Temple complaining about the missing work ethics of British criminals.
    Eddie: England! Typical. Even drug dealers don't work weekends.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Sidney, who shoots XXXX at the very end, perhaps fatally.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: The film contains 210 F-bombs, which averages out to one every 30 seconds.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: In the book only.
  • Cold Sniper: Mr. Lucky gets ready to shoot the Serbian as he arrives to the Overt Rendezvous. However, it turns out Dragan had arrived even earlier and scoped the place out, allowing him to snipe Mr. Lucky instead.
  • Companion Cube: Gene and his guns, especially his silenced pistol.
    Morty: I hope you don't tell the other guns you have a favourite!
  • The Con: The climax of the movie. XXXX has to retrieve drugs from a rogue gang branch, placate the Serbian gang, and deliver the drugs to Eddie.
  • 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 (2006) 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.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Having your chest ironed.
  • 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: XXXX 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.
  • Death by Adaptation: 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 film remains to be seen.
  • Decapitation Presentation: XXXX hands the Duke's severed head to the Serbs in an ice box, so they can get their satisfaction.
  • Defensive Failure: Subverted. When XXXX is about to blow Jimmy's brains out from close range, he hesitates and it looks like he cannot bring himself to pull the trigger, but after a few seconds he pulls himself together and gives Jimmy a Boom, Headshot.
  • Destroy the Evidence: XXXX burns the clothes he was wearing to assassinate Jimmy, but 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.
  • Don't Call Me Sir: Played straight when Jimmy Price offers XXXX to call him by his first name instead of "Mr. Price". He revokes his offer later when things don't go as planned.
  • 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:
    • 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".
  • Drowning My Sorrows: XXXX blitzes on pills and whisky after killing Jimmy. Followed by a Drunken Montage.
  • 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: The last scene of XXXX on the stairs fades out to white.
  • 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.
  • Fat and Skinny: Liverpudlians Trevor and Shanks. Trevor is a big, laid-back black guy and Shanks is white, skinny and highly twitchy.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Several of the gangster characters, particularly Morty and Gene, Eddie Temple, and XXXX 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.
  • Get Rich Quick Scheme: Jimmy's plan to steal a huge batch of ecstasy from beneath the noses of a crime ring.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Blood splattered on some leafs indicating the headshot received by Mr. Lucky.
  • 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.
  • High-Altitude Interrogation: Eddie Temple uses this scare tactic against XXXX. His henchmen kidnap XXXX from his apartment and then hang him from the roof of a high-rise building to soften him up.
  • Hollywood Silencer: A variation where a pillow is used to silence a headshot.
  • Impairment Shot: When Freddie Hurst is brutally battered by Morty, the camera takes Freddie's POV as he takes the beating and sinks down to the ground. Also the soundtrack fades in and out and dirt is left on the lens.
  • 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.
  • Ironic Echo: Early on at Stoke Park Club, Jimmy requests "A little privacy, please, Angelo." The line is echoed at the end by XXXX, the new boss in charge of the place.
  • Jerk Ass: Mr. X himself. But Crazy Larry takes the cake.
  • 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.
  • Living MacGuffin: Eddie Temple's daughter whom the protagonist is supposed to find but is never actually found by him nor appears on screen.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: The movie features approximately 30 named characters.
  • 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.
  • Match Cut: Used several times within the film, most notably when zooming into and out of XXXX's eyes when he decides to kill Jimmy.
  • Mysterious Mercenary Pursuer: Dragan, the assassin hired by Serbian mobsters. Seen only briefly at the end, he tracks XXXX through almost the entire film and is always a step ahead.
  • Narrator: XXXX serves as this at the start of the film in order to provide some exposition about drugs and crime.
  • Nebulous Criminal Conspiracy: Layer Cake being a reference to the various "layers" of the London criminal underworld, encompassing petty drug dealers, to thieves, up to Serbian War Criminals turned drug barons and powerful British crime lords. Reference is made to an attempt to "buy a country" via two of the bigger fish bankrolling an (ultimately botched) coup d'etat in an African nation, a detail that drives the story.
  • Never Give the Captain a Straight Answer: When XXXX asks Gene what he should be going about the Serbs, Gene doesn't give a straight answer but leads XXXX to his gun cabinet.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown:
    • Morty delivers one to his former accomplice Freddie whose incompetence resulted in his being imprisoned for a decade for a crime he didn't commit. It's filmed from the victim's point of view!
    • XXXX gets a brief but very efficient one from Gene before he has a chance to tell him that the reason he killed Jimmy was because Jimmy was a police informer who was planning on screwing them both over. For a little extra scary atmosphere, consider that the thing in the freezer that Gene was banging XXXX's face on was probably the Duke's frozen corpse.
  • 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: XXXX 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.
  • One-Woman Wail: Heard twice.
    • When XXXX visits the office of his money launderer only to find the place stripped empty.
    • Again, during the ending montage after Eddie and his men leave the warehouse.
  • "Open!" Says Me: Morty uses his feet to open the door to Gene's room with the freezer.
  • Overt Rendezvous: XXXX wants to meet Dragan in a public place rather than at a hotel room. We later learn why.
  • Pillow Pistol: XXXX is shown with a gun resting on his pillow during sleep.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: During the taped conversation, Jimmy uses the word "dead darkies" when referring to Jamaicans.
  • Pragmatic Villainy:
    • 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.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: The Duke's girlfriend receives an audience-friendly small entrance wound to her forehead. Applies also to 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.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: YES! FUCKING! PLEASE!
  • Rare Guns: The gun that XXXX 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.
  • Ready for Lovemaking: Tammy has a Lingerie Scene where she gets ready for mating with XXXX by putting on sexy underwear and stockings. Unfortunately, Eddie's henchmen have other plans for XXXX.
  • Red Baron: Deconstructed. XXXX notes how much he loathes wannabe gangsters who try to make themselves renowned with badass nicknames such as "The Duke", basically placing a bullseye on their backs and drawing the attention of the authorities—not a good option for a criminal who is just in it for the profit.
  • Retirony: Not by enemy gangsters, but by the jealous ex-boyfriend.
  • Room Disservice: How the Magnificent Bastard gangster has the protagonist brought to him, preventing him from having sex with Sienna Miller.
  • Ruthless Foreign Gangsters: The Serbians, who are more a force of nature than another one of the players in the London underworld. Their operation is also so vast that when one of their deals goes bad, their only real concern is killing everyone responsible rather than recovering their merchandise.
  • 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 into the café and asks him for money. Carnage ensues.
  • Schrödinger's Cast: In both the original novel and film, XXXX gets shot at the end of the work. In the former, he survives. In the latter, he is implied to die, but it's deliberately ambiguous. If the novel's sequel is ever filmed, then he'll obviously be alive in both works — but until then, the film version is left unclear.
  • 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 are content with the deaths of those who stole from them.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!:
    XXXX: What the fuck?!
    Morty: ...I might not be around for a while.
    • The members of Duke's remaining gang drop their weapons and make a run for the backdoor when the Police storms the warehouse.
  • 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.
    • When XXXX is taking medicine with booze a close up shot of his eye is shown, with his pupil widening. This same shot is shown multiple time in Requiem for a Dream, with the same sound effect.
  • 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. More pertinently, several litres of boiling liquid.
    Morty: But let's forget about all that. Let's have a cup of tea, Mr Hurst.
  • Stocking Filler: When getting Ready for Lovemaking, Tammy slips off her normal underwear in the bathroom and changes into black stockings and suspenders.
  • Stuffed Into the Freezer: The Duke.
  • Terrorists 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.
  • Title Drop:
    Eddie Temple: "Welcome to the layer cake."
  • Too Dumb to Live: The Duke and his followers are stupid, loudmouthed, wannabe gangsters who have the bright idea to steal millions in drugs from Serbian war criminals, who then send their best contract killer after him. Discussed by XXXX, who notes that his kind don't mean to fuck up, they just do.
  • 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.
  • TV Telephone Etiquette: XXXX remarks "That's rude, Mr. Dragan", after Dragan hangs up without saying goodbye.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The narrated flashback to Larry's death is first shown as a Ate His Gun moment, but at a later stage, when Gene retells the story, it's revealed that Larry was shot from behind.
  • Unwitting Pawn: XXXX, for most of the film, is being manipulated by either Jimmy or Eddie.
  • The Villain Knows Where You Live: XXXX 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.
    • Played for Laughs when XXXX is being threatened by a Serbian gangster; he acts intimidated and agrees to meet him where he lives, "Do you know where that is?" When the Serbian says no, XXXX hangs up on him.
  • Villain Protagonist: Almost all the characters are drug dealers and gangsters, including X, the main character.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Eddie Temple (Eddie Ryder in the novel).
  • Villainy Discretion Shot: Justified; XXXX 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.
  • Wall of Weapons: Gene is a gun fanatic and has a cabinet with fancy guns on display.
  • 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.
  • We Can Rule Together: In the end, Eddie offers this to XXXX when he sees his potential. The latter has different plans.
  • White Shirt of Death: Both the Duke and XXXX wear neat white outfits when they receive a gunshot to their chest.
  • 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?
  • Woman in Black: Tammy is dressed all in black - down to her underwear - when meeting up with XXXX.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: The film was released as L4yer Cak3 in the United States.
    • And the UK DVD release too.