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Layer Cake

A slice of the “Layer Cake” reveals a cross-section of the strata of England’s illicit drug trade.   Occupying a layer somewhere in the middle is the protagonist of the movie: a businessman, smart and professional, who runs a sort of drug brokerage.   Though he’s careful that we never get his name (in the credits he’s listed as “xxxx”), as played by Daniel Craig he’s got leading-man looks and a cool, smooth demeanor which allows him to finesse transactions between the producers, wholesalers, and retailers of the drug economy.  

However, as good as things are going, he tells us that he’s eager to get out of the business after the proverbial “one last job”.   He’s never had a taste for crime; he can’t stand guns and has always done his best to keep “the street” at arm’s length.   Besides, he reckons that it’s only a matter of time before illicit drugs are legalized: he figures that people will always enjoy changing their consciousness and there’re just too many billions at stake for “legit” capitalists to pass it up forever (in an amusing, inventive shot, he visualizes supermarket shelves stocked with name-brand cocaine and ecstasy).   However, when his boss orders him to find another boss’ missing daughter, whilst at the same time he finds himself mixed up in a robbery of a group of particularly ruthless dealers, “xxxx” is hurled into the criminal side of the business where he’s way out of his depth.

While it’s not formulaic, “Layer Cake”’s flavor is fairly familiar; its pleasures consist mostly in watching good British character actors work variations on familiar themes, including Michael Gambon as a top crime lord (in a nice twist on the film’s theme of rank in the strata of the drug economy, Gambon’s character makes “xxxx”’s boss, whom we’ve been intimidated by for most of the picture, look fairly ridiculous).   We’re familiar with the use of the drug milieu as metaphor for capitalism in extremis; we know what becomes of the criminal who just wants to get out of “the life” after “one more job”; we’ve laughed before at the comically transgressive ruthlessness and the absurdly violent situations.  

It’s quite a well-crafted piece, recommended to those who enjoy violent British crime films.   Directed by Matthew Vaughn, who produced “Lock, Stock” as well as “Snatch”.

- Jun 10, 2005  

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