Layer Cake is the story of a cocaine dealer (Daniel Craig) who thinks of himself more as a businessman than a criminal and conducts himself in the same way. He's not loud or flash, doesn't want to be a 'name' (the character is never named in the film and is called 'XXXX" in the credits) or a gangster but instead plans to make a nice pile of money and then retire from crime and live off investments and the interest. This is a criminal with a 5 year plan.
But XXXX's carefully laid plan begins to unravel when his employer and supplier Jimmy Price gives him an errand. The job is to find a girl called Charlie, the daughter of Jimmy's friend and associate Eddie Temple, who's done a runner from a rehab clinic with her junkie boyfriend Kinky. XXXX protests that this isn't really his line of work but Jimmy's having none of it. Reluctantly, XXXX starts looking.
And very quickly finds himself increasingly out of depth. Stolen drugs, Serbian war criminals, loudmouth gangster types, informants, bent coppers and being dangled from the ledge of a very tall building all await XXXX and the movie is stuffed full of great scenes.
But the standout, for me, is the Ordinary World scene. In it, XXXX and his associate Morty (XXXX's link to the criminal world) are sitting in a cafe having a fairly tense discussion about the latest nightmare that's landed in their lap, when in walks Freddie Hurst.
At that point, Freddie is an unknown to us, just as he is to XXXX. He's dirty, unkempt and doesn't look like he's washed for a fortnight. The only thing that stops us thinking he's a down and out is that he buys himself breakfast and then lamps up. But he knows Morty and even though Morty is one fearsome fella, thinks nothing of being downright disrespectful. That Morty seems to let this slide is surprising enough but that he then proceeds to hand over money to the scummy git is little short of amazing.
But then things escalate. Morty throws the rest of his money at Freddie and proceeds to give him one of the most brutal beatings ever committed to film, shouting and yelling as he does so. 'Ten fucking years' and 'need a red light?' we can hear but the rest is incomprehensible. By the end, Freddie's lying close to dead and XXXX is not only further in the shit, but he's now alone, with Morty saying he has to lie low for a while. The shot where the camera spirals around XXXX is a fair sum up of how he feels; bewildered.
There are two things that elevate the scene. Firstly it's intercut with two other characters meeting their end at unknown hands, with the final zoom in and zoom out between the two different prone bodies nicely tying the scene off.
And the second thing is the song. Ordinary World by Duran Duran is, in my opinion, pretty much their best song. Soaring and yet melancholic, it's an odd choice for this kind of scene but it works, somehow making the violence seem more real and believable.
The reason the violence has such a high wince factor is because we see it solely from Freddie's perspective. This isn't a fight; it's a beating and as such only Morty has any say whatsoever in what's happening. Freddie's little more than a punchbag and the way the scene is cut, with blackouts, the sound dropping in and out and a mess of solid thumps and hits, makes the viewer uncomfortably aware of how disorientated and powerless Freddie is by the sheer brutality of Morty's attack.
So, for your viewing pleasure, here's the Ordinary World scene from Layer Cake...