A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Like Scorsese's "Casino" and "GoodFellas," the British crime movie "Layer Cake" opens with a narration describing a criminal world made in heaven. Also like "Casino" and "GoodFellas," it is about an inexorable decline toward the torments of hell. The voice explaining everything to us belongs to Daniel Craig, who plays the competent and conservative middle-man in a well-run London cocaine operation. Nobody ever calls him by name during the movie, and in the closing credits, he's referred to as "XXXX," which may be one-upmanship on "XXX," or probably not.
Craig's credo, spelled out as if he's lecturing at a management seminar, involves knowing your suppliers, knowing your customers, paying your bills and never getting too greedy. His front is real estate. His exit plan is retirement in the near future. All of that changes when he is summoned to a private club for a luncheon meeting with his immediate superior, Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham), a hard man with cold eyes and a menacing Cockney charm. Jimmy wants him to sort out an ecstasy deal that went bad, and as a sort of twofer, also find the missing daughter of his boss, Eddie Temple (Michael Gambon), the kind of man whose soul has warts on its scars.
XXXX does not much like either assignment. They involve cleaning up the kinds of messes he has scrupulously avoided in his own dealings. What's the use of playing it safe if you work for people who want you to take their chances for them? The ecstasy deal is especially dicey: One of Jimmy's cronies named Duke (Jamie Forman), stole ecstasy pills allegedly worth a million pounds. The Serbs he stole them from want them back. Jimmy's ideal scenario, never stated in so many words, would involve XXXX grabbing the pills for Jimmy while Duke is thrown to the Serbs.
XXXX has some hard men who work for him and might be able to get this job done. More complicated is the matter of the girl, especially when another girl named Tammy (Sienna Miller) enters the picture. There are key supporting roles for such actors as the indespensible Colm Meaney, who looks as if he should be found guilty and sent down for life just for the way he has of listening to you.