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Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto

. "Layer Cake"

In the drug world, it seems there's always some dealer with more clout, more smarts or more power to control or eliminate the competition than you do. These are the layers of the cake, and if you're a clever guy who happens to be on one of the lower ones, outsmarting your competition on a big score might not bring you the victory you expected.

In any case, that's what our hero (Daniel Craig) wants to do: score a load of ecstasy big enough to finance a retirement. It's his big plan. He's been going about the highly profitable sale of drugs, operating with as little attention drawn to himself as possible. Just a disciplined businessman staying under the radar.

But that doesn't mean he doesn't have connections that might not be so similarly inclined. In fact, the crime boss he's been associating with, sociopathic Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham), wants two last favors from him. First, he must track down the missing, drug addict daughter of powerful criminal honcho Eddie Temple (Michael Gambon). Second, he must negotiate the sale of a huge shipment of ecstasy with The Duke (Jamie Foreman), a loose cannon petty crook playing well out of his league.

What should be a routine transaction turns into a tragic trail of spoils in the dictates of a layered order of power that reaches from the crack dens of London to the highest ranks of British society. It's a dance of duplicity and hidden alliances in which visions of victory become realities of calamity. His dreams of retirement and a last score brings the realization that he is part of a machine that has a tighter grasp on him than he ever imagined.

Matthew Vaughn directs from a screenplay adapted by author J.J. Connolly from his novel. Which may explain why it's so chopped up and, at times, difficult to track, and the heavy British accents don't make it easier. Perhaps there's too much adherence to the details of the book to render a smooth narrative for the screen. Craig scores in this role, with a hard magnetism and sympathy, possibly one of his better roles. Chambon plays on his inimitable crafty old fox at or very near the top layer of the criminal hierarchy, and the rest of the acting is all good in more or less stereotypical functions for the genre.

The level of morality produces a deadliness that's as demoralizing to the film as the drug trade is to the addict.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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