Layer Cake is a British crime drama, with myriad characters and an intricate plot. It’s a slick, well-made film, I would have to think among the better films of its genre.
The protagonist is a classy, suave drug dealer, not at the very top of the crime hierarchy but a medium-to-big shot. Just when he has decided to retire from the life, he is dragged back in—a crime movie cliché, I know—and must contend with a series of high stress adventures, threats to his fortune, and threats to his life.
I found most of Layer Cake difficult to follow, but I felt like I at least was getting the gist of what was going on. By the end, I had a better grasp of it than I would have expected. I don’t think it’s one of those annoying, intentionally obscure and possibly incoherent movies; it’s just complex. I could probably explain a good 75%-80% of it, and I suspect that if I were to watch it multiple times I’d probably get most of the remaining details and nuance. (Subtitles would have been nice. I lost some of the dialogue due to the accents.)
I find myself thinking about this movie in terms of some of the general themes or lessons I picked up about the kind of people and lifestyle it depicts:
- To some extent you may be able to count on people you’ve been associated with for years—though I’d watch my back even with them—but no one’s word is worth anything at all in terms of short term deals. You’d think that enlightened self-interest would favor behaving in a way that encourages mutual trust, but apparently this particular subgroup of the population is not evolved enough for that and so it would be too risky not to be constantly looking out for your short term safety and interests. This movie is just one betrayal after another.
- The best way to deal with the risks of such an atmosphere of distrust and double dealing (other than to not enter that world in the first place) is probably to be intelligent and focused enough to put yourself in each party’s shoes in order to understand what they would perceive as being in their self-interest, and to assume that they are amoral enough to do it, thereby enabling you to anticipate their next move. Unfortunately this is hardly foolproof though, because while moral principles rarely if ever deflect them from the path of self-interest, other factors may well do so, such as insanity, jealousy, desire for revenge, stupidity, sadism, intoxication, etc. So you can still get tripped up.
- I’ve made this point more than once elsewhere, but if women could ever by some miracle learn to keep their legs together in the presence of horrible, violent, vicious, conventionally macho men, the world would be a vastly better place because it would radically alter the incentive structure for males. The only woman in this movie who gets more than thirty seconds or so of screen time is a hot blonde who apparently has no function whatsoever in life except to be a hot blonde that criminals lust over. She may well deny that it’s the crime factor that draws her to them, but instead their money, cars, clothes, drugs, alpha male personalities, etc.; indeed she doesn’t even seem to take much notice of the violence and crimes they commit. But the point is, she’s responsible for taking notice of it, because that’s precisely what gives them those other things that are such powerful aphrodisiacs for women.
I enjoyed Layer Cake more than I usually enjoy films of this genre. For those who love a crime movie with a lot of mystery and plot twists, complex but not so baffling as to be impossible to follow, this movie deserves a recommendation.