Layer Cake

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Layer Cake Movie Poster Image
Violence, language, drugs in British noir crime movie.
  • R
  • 2004
  • 106 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No positive messages. The film's title is in reference to one of the character's views of the criminal world and life in general. To paraphrase: The layers of the cake are excrement that one endures in life until they are at the top of the cake and forget what excrement smells like. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

No positive role models. The lead character is a cocaine dealer. The movie is centered on various players in the drug trade. 

Violence

Character shoots himself in the head. Man shot in the head and killed at point-blank range. One of the characters brutally beats up another character, pounding him until he's a bloody pulp, and then pouring the contents of a boiling hot tea kettle on his skin. A man is found dead with an iron burned into his chest. Innocent man shot and killed in a warehouse. Explosions. Character found dead from a drug overdose. 

Sex

Characters have sex, no nudity. Man shown watching a pornographic movie; sounds of moaning. 

Language

Constant profanity. "F--k" used on a regular basis. In a fantasy sequence, a high-end boutique sells drugs, and the name of the brand is "F--K" with the two middle letters switched. "S--te." "Piss," "bastard." Various racist terms used to describe black, Asian, and Pakistani people. 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Movie's lead character is a cocaine dealer. One of the plots centers on a large shipment of Ecstasy stolen from a brutal Serbian kingpin. Cocaine use shown. References to hashish and LSD. Cigar and cigarette smoking. Champagne drinking. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Layer Cake is a 2004 British action-crime movie in which Daniel Craig plays a cocaine distributor caught in a web of deceit involving kidnapping and stolen drugs. There's considerable drug use, including cocaine, and a central part of the plot is a stolen shipment of Ecstasy pills. Constant profanity, including "f--k" frequently used, as well as racial slurs for Pakistanis and people of color. The title of the movie is a reference to one of the character's philosophy of life, in which most people are born in "s--t" and try to climb out of these layers until they no longer smell it. There's violence throughout, including a scene in which a man beats another man to a bloody pulp in a diner, then finishes the job by pouring the contents of a boiling hot tea kettle on his face. Character shoots himself in the head. Characters killed by machine gun fire. Man found dead of a drug overdose. Characters shown having sex in one scene (no nudity), and sounds of people having sex as a character is shown watching a pornographic movie. This movie is directed by Matthew Vaughn, who also directed Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, and the gritty noir fast-paced style of Layer Cake is in a similar vein. Based on a novel by JJ Connolly.

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What's the story?

In LAYER CAKE, XXXX (Daniel Craig) is a mid-level cocaine distributor who is planning on retiring from the criminal underworld very soon. Before he can, he's given two tasks by Jimmy Price, the mob boss he has been working with. First, he is to track down an associate's teenage drug-addicted runaway daughter and bring her home. Second, he is to assist in the purchase of one million Ecstasy pills from a low-level gangster and his crew. These two tasks prove to be much more complicated than anticipated, when XXXX eventually learns the real reason Jimmy wanted him to track down the girl, and also learns that the pills were stolen from a vicious Serbian drug kingpin and his gang. Now, as XXXX is beginning to understand that nearly everyone around him is double-crossing him and each other, he must find a way to outsmart those who've tried to frame him and get him killed. 

Is it any good?

This movie is very much a product of its time, and while its enjoyable, it doesn't quite stand out from similar movies of that era. Layer Cake is an entertaining British crime noir movie from the makers of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. There's a distinctive style to turn-of-the-century crime movies like these -- for instance: cynical voiceovers, foul-mouthed henchmen with distinctive nicknames, criminal bosses who make their points by bringing up the behavior of some animal in nature or a tactical gambit in chess -- and Layer Cake is very much a part of that style and sensibility. Therein lies the problem. Even if the story is entertaining on its own terms, with plenty of action, double-crosses, and plot twists, there's still the lingering feeling that this has all been done before. 

As the cool and professional lead character known only as "XXXX," Daniel Craig brings a suave style that seems to make it inevitable that he would soon be James Bond. He's the smart and even-keeled drug dealer surrounded by stooges and psychos. Again, this is all to be expected. There's a "love interest" that seems a little too shoehorned in, like the filmmakers realized that there were only two female characters in the whole thing, and they're both relatively minor. It's a story where style sometimes gets in the way of substance when there's no reason, because the story is fine on its own terms.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about movies centered on drug dealing. Do movies such as Layer Cake glamorize the lives of drug dealers, or is there obvious exaggeration for the sake of entertainment? How is drug use shown in the movie? 

  • Why do you think there's an appeal to movies centered on "bad guys?" 

  • Did the profanity and violence seem necessary to the movie, or did it seem gratuitous? Why?

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