A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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?
- In theaters: June 3, 2004
- On DVD or streaming: August 23, 2005
- Cast: Daniel Craig, Sienna Miller, Michael Gambon
- Director: Matthew Vaughn
- Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 106 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: Strong brutal violence, sexuality, nudity, pervasive language and drug use.
- Last updated: March 12, 2020
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