Helmed by Matthew Vaughn of ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service‘ fame, ‘Layer Cake’ is a sleeky crime thriller with a healthy amount of gory violence and with doses of dry British humor. Drawing heavily from the works of Guy Ritchie, the story revolves around a stolen package of drugs, which in turn sets off an erratic gang war with longstanding repercussions. The intense and galvanizing story builds upon a simple philosophical premise: man has free will to act upon the interests that would serve him best, but it is finally the immanent will of divinity that seals his fate.
The complex narrative is executed to perfection by a stellar cast with names like Daniel Craig, Sir Michael Gambon (of ‘Harry Potter‘ recognition), and Tom Hardy, and coupled with innovative cinematography and a foreboding score, it’s a perfect concoction for a mind-bender. The ending of the film is drawn with hasty brushstrokes, and it becomes difficult for the viewers to keep track of things. However, all ends in tears, as these arrangements usually do, to borrow a line from Gambon’s character in the film. If you are baffled by the finality of the film, let us decode it for you. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Layer Cake Plot Synopsis
Staying true to its name, the film unfolds like a multi-layered cake, with some cream and a lot of dough. But as the proverb goes, one can’t have the cake and eat it too. Our unnamed protagonist (credited as XXXX) has a little drug business going in Ireland, along with his long-time associates Morty, Terry, and Clarkie. The world has gone to the wolves, but the business is doing pretty well. XXXX takes orders from an old chap named Jimmy Price through his loyal subordinate Gene.
Gene is trusted by the gang of the protagonist, as he is seemingly valued by Jimmy. XXXX is a middleman in the business – he buys drugs from buyers and sells them to high-end clients. He channelizes the dirty money through a shady accountant called Mr. Singh. Everything is going smooth until he gets a call from Jimmy. Jimmy has two jobs for him. Firstly, a guy named Duke is looking to move a large shipment of drugs. That should not be a problem for the protagonist, who is in the line of work.
The other task, however, is out of his area of expertise. Charlie, the daughter of Eddie Temple, has gone missing, and the protagonist is given the duty to find her. XXXX goes to the shipyard to bargain with the Duke regarding the transfer of one million MDMA tabs. Hot-headed Duke is not ready to lower the price, and the protagonist withdraws, promising to keep the Duke posted. XXXX meets con artists Cody and Tiptoes at a club and gives them the bounty to find Charlie.
He meets Duke’s nephew Sidney in the same club, while Sidney’s girl Tammy makes passes at him. Meanwhile, XXXX considers selling the drugs to a Liverpool gang led by Trevor and Shanks, but he gets to know that the Duke has stolen the drugs from a ruthless Serbian organized crime group. The Duke has mentioned XXXX’s name all around Amsterdam, and he has become a prime target. The Serbians send an assassin called Dragan his way, but that is not the only problem.
Eddie Temple finds out that XXXX is looking for his daughter, kidnaps him, and then discloses that Jimmy is a police informant double-crossing the gang. Jimmy has made a disastrous foreign investment, and now with all his money gone, he seeks to kidnap Charlie and use her as a chip. XXXX kills Jimmy to settle the scores, only to come back to Mr. Singh’s office and find all his money gone. In the meantime, Duke has gone missing along with his loudmouth girlfriend, and XXXX’s team is keeping a tab on their operations.
Under pressure, XXXX arranges a meeting with Dragan, and he takes hitman Mr. Lucky to kill him, but Mr. Lucky ends up dead instead. Dragan is not someone to be messed around with, but he certainly hasn’t killed Duke. In a moment of confrontation between Gene and Morty, XXXX gets to know that one of Gene’s associates has killed Duke, whose dead body is currently being stowed away in a freezer.
In the final moments, XXXX goes to the yard to bargain with Duke’s gang member Gazza, but the scene is raided by the police, and the gangsters manage to escape by an inch. But surprise! The police raid was arranged by XXXX himself. Dragan is contented with the package given by XXXX, while the drugs revert to the boys, who take them to Eddie Temple. But Eddie, it turns out, is a wicked man.
Layer Cake Ending: Is XXXX Dead?
As a fitting finale to the erratic violence that figures most of the film, the ending is layered. Eddie takes the drugs from the boys while Eddie’s henchmen keep them at gunpoint. But XXXX is smart enough to anticipate this act of double-crossing, and he has already employed Trevor and Skanks to go after Eddie Temple’s men. In the act of armed robbery, the Liverpool gang kills Eddie’s right-hand man Mr. Troop, takes the drugs, and settles the debts.
In another scene, we get to see the magnanimous scale of operations of the Serbs, where ecstasy tabs are being made in a Fordist production line. We get the feeling that the one million tabs, which set the story in motion, are a mere day’s work for these Serbs, which exposes the banality of the lives that are killed in the plot. On the other hand, XXXX longs to escape the drug business, and in the final moment, he endows his teammates — Morty, Gene, Clarkie, and Terry — with the responsibility of running the business and takes his leave.
The plethora of lost lives in the course of the story has made XXXX realize the value of life, and he looks forward to living his life away from the bloody business of the drug trade. He reunites with his new girlfriend, Tammy, outside the club. But his own payback is due, and in a final scene, a volatile but apologetic Sidney kills him. The suggestion is that greed breeds hatred, and hatred breeds violence, and in the hierarchy of a layered cake, it is the cherry on top that gets plucked first. Therefore, XXXX follows the same uncertain fate that has befallen Crazy Larry and Jimmy Price before him.
How Does XXXX Elude The Serbs? What Is In The Package That XXXX Gives Dragan?
In the final moments, Dragan is given a package by the protagonist. Dragan was initially hoping to retrieve both the drugs and Duke for his superiors, but he leaves content with the package. XXXX cleverly misguides Dragan by staging a police raid with the help of his trusted con men Cody and Tiptoes, but neither Gazza nor Dragan has any idea about this. The false raid helps XXXX procure the drugs without paying a penny to Duke’s thugs, while he manages to convince Dragan that the police have confiscated the drugs.
Dragan returns without the drugs, while XXXX plans to sell them to Eddie Temple. We know how that turns out. But what is in the box that XXXX gives Dragan, one might ask. It is anybody’s guess, and in the final moment, the Serb boss opens the lid of the box to find Duke’s severed head. In a previous scene, we have seen the Duke being shot by one of Gene’s men, and delivering the head, we gather, is one of the easier tasks that XXXX has been given in the course of the narrative.
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