Review: Easy Money (2010)

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Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Matias Varela, Dragomir Mrsic
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Country: Sweden
Genre: Crime | Drama | Thriller
Official Trailer: Here


Released so long ago in its native Sweden that director Daniel Espinosa has since had time to not only film a major Hollywood action movie and to see its release, but to oversee a sequel to this too, Easy Money is the latest step in the Scandinavian takeover of American cinema. Starring Joel Kinnaman, a prominent player in the US version of The Killing and a supporting player in Espinosa’s Safe House, it’s the kind of fast-paced foreign crime thriller poster quote-craving critics like to immediately herald as “the next Stieg Larsson”. Revolving around a trio of characters drawn separately into a criminal operation in Stockholm, Easy Money is far more concerned with the mentality of crime than Larsson’s work, showing through these three the corruptive allure of the underworld.

With so many successes in so short a time, Scandinavian cinema’s fortunes on the American market see each new import arrive with plentiful expectations. There’s a sense of trust that the native thrillers have long since lost, an earned expectation of superior quality. Easy Money meets those expectations with ease, as technically adept as it is dramatically assured, as sleekly confident in its action thrills as it is eminently capable at delivering small moments of engaging characterisation.

Kinnaman plays JW, a struggling business student whose desire to escape his working class rural background manifests itself in expensive suits and top-class clubs, all funded by working for an illegal taxi service. Soon contracted as an associate to a related cocaine business, he is tasked with tracking down recent prison escapee Jorge, whose knowledge of the trade is all they need to assure their market dominance. Jorge’s near-death at the hands of Mrado, a hit man for a rival Yugoslav syndicate, sees him forced to recuperate in JW’s dorm, where the two forge a bond in preparation for a job that will impact each of the three men’s lives.

With so many successes in so short a time, Scandinavian cinema’s fortunes on the American market see each new import arrive with plentiful expectations. There’s a sense of trust that the native thrillers have long since lost, an earned expectation of superior quality. Easy Money meets those expectations with ease, as technically adept as it is dramatically assured, as sleekly confident in its action thrills as it is eminently capable at delivering small moments of engaging characterisation. It’s easy to consider any new Swedish film in the context of Larsson’s Dragon Tattoo series; a more appropriate gauge for Easy Money is this year’s Headhunters. Both films see essentially good men driven by vanity to crime, brought by the seduction of success to delve into a world far beyond them. While Headhunters may exceed it in the realms of thrilling entertainment, Easy Money has the upper hand in terms of its characters, their arcs more fully-fledged, their motivations more relatable, their emotional inclinations more immediately understandable.

In his giddy descent into the irresistible world of profitable crime, JW recalls the protagonists of the classic gangster pictures; like them, he is a character we feel for despite his flaws, not least of all thanks to the casting of his financial woes against the backdrop of economic collapse.

It’s in its focus on character that Easy Money finds its surest successes, giving us a triumvirate whose flaws provide the plot’s driving engine, whose own arcs shape that of the narrative, rather than the other way around. In his giddy descent into the irresistible world of profitable crime, JW recalls the protagonists of the classic gangster pictures; like them, he is a character we feel for despite his flaws, not least of all thanks to the casting of his financial woes against the backdrop of economic collapse. Each of the three finds themselves confronted to some degree by familial crisis, a problematic convenience that rather too neatly links them thematically. Only in Mrado’s case is this tangential subplot justified, his relationship with his young daughter the film’s most rounded and engrossing by some distance. For JW, talk of an abducted and still missing sister suggests only a wider story to be tackled in further installments.

Finding more than its typically twisty thriller plot alone offers through confident directorial flourish and a cast who bring gravitas aplenty to their characters, Easy Money convincingly argues the case for Scandinavian cinema’s continued genre superiority. Its dramatic depth may be restricted by franchise-building obligations and an inability to more succinctly draw together the parallels between its three leads, but the fact that it’s there to be restricted in the first place should not be overlooked. It’s thrillers the like of this and Headhunters that make one wish distributors would put more weight behind their foreign imports. Instead, we have a Zac Efron-starring remake to look forward to.

[notification type=”star”]70/100 ~ GOOD. Finding more than its typically twisty thriller plot alone offers through confident directorial flourish and a cast who bring gravitas aplenty to their characters, Easy Money convincingly argues the case for Scandinavian cinema’s continued genre superiority.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.