‘Easy Money’ – an elaborate and satisfying thriller
Directed by Daniel Espinosa
Sometimes it just takes a little bit of American television to help out the little guy. Made in 2010, Daniel Espinosa’s Swedish thriller is only now hitting American theaters, likely on the strength of its lead, Joel Kinnaman, who American audiences will recognize from the polarizing AMC television show The Killing, and who is soon to don the metallic Robocop suit in the inevitable remake.
Hyper in the Guy Ritchie mold, but without the annoying stereotypes, one-liners, and slim narratives, Easy Money is a thriller that fits the trend of recent dark, front-to-back actioners like the excellent French Point Blank.
JW (Kinnaman) is a brilliant economics student, a misfit and a bit of a conman. He’s a taxi driver by night, but spends his weekends playing the part of the rich playboy. In order to keep up his idealized lifestyle he takes on a dangerous gig from his Arab boss Abdulkarim (Mahmut Sucakci): rescue recent prison escapee Jorge (Matias Varela) from the clutches of the rival Serbian mob boss Radovan (Dejan Cukic). JW pulls off the perilous job and is soon set up as the lead businessman in a lucrative drug game.
Kinnaman headlines the stellar cast of characters, largely unknown to American audiences. His JW is ambitious but naïve, taking in every new situation with wide eyes. As in The Killing Kinnaman is immediately sympathetic. He’s wiry and tough, but his lean exterior isn’t able to hide his expressive eyes, which shift frequently from anger to innocence. It’s a type that he’s already mastered in his young career – the good-hearted loner with a past.
Opposite Kinnaman is Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic), one of Radovan’s henchmen, who has probably the most interesting character arc in the film. Mrado is introduced with a bang. He saunters into a club and violently beats a man in the bathroom. His next scene involves him brutally hitting a punching bag in slow motion. But once his daughter is introduced into the equation, this savage character takes a dramatic turn. Our expectations are upended, as Mrado becomes closer to tender father than vicious enforcer.
This is the ultimate strength of Espinosa’s film. Alongside all of the intricate plotting and many action set pieces is a strong theme of familial bond. Mrado’s priorities shift toward his puppy-eyed daughter Lovisa (Lea Stojanov). Jorge splits his time between drug running and looking in on his pregnant sister Paola (Annika Ryberg Whittembury). One of the few truths we learn about JW’s past is that his sister, Camilla, with whom he was very close, disappeared four years ago.
It’s family in a different way than “the family” of a Godfather film. These are blue-collar criminals and outsiders; hardened criminals, sure, but also nostalgic men with soft spots for that female relation. The family ties not only raise the stakes (Mrado must pull off a risky stick-up while his daughter waits alone in a motel), but also avoids the caricature view so frequently present in rival-mob thriller films.
Easy Money isn’t all blue-collar crime, however. Part of JW’s role in the whole enterprise is to take over a failing Swedish bank in order to launder the drug money. The eye-opening percentages thrown around, the back-room dealings, and the casual handling of money lead to an infuriating look at the shady business going on concurrent with the many financial crises. When JW recommends against putting the illicit profits into a local bank because of several recent investigations, his suggestion to store it otherwise reeks of casual conspiracy and intentional fiscal irresponsibility.
At 124 minutes, Easy Money is a bit overlong. Espinosa spends too much time on protracted montages. Meant to build suspense, the montages become rather redundant by the beginning of the third act – a point when the focus should be on the impending climax, and not several series of shots of the various characters contemplating individual circumstances.
Nonetheless, Easy Money is an elaborate and satisfying thriller that’s unafraid to take on themes larger than the scope of a standard action flick.
– Neal Dhand