I sat down to watch Easy Money (or Snabba Cash to give it its original Swedish title) having already seen its director Daniel Espinosa’s more recent film Safe House. This is a quirk of the release dates – Safe House being a Hollywood production, after all, and this a subtitled Swedish thriller – but it made the differences between the films all the more pronounced: Safe House was confident but ultimately quite generic; this shares the former quality, but not the latter.
Easy Money was made in 2010 but arrives on these shores at the crest of a wave of Scandinavian crime drama that has manifested itself in literature, films and television. Indeed, the star of Easy Money is Joel Kinnaman, who plays the lead in ongoing series The Killing (based on a Danish TV production), and the film is based on the novel Snabba Cash by Swedish writer Jens Lapidus.
It concerns three protagonists – JW (Kinnaman), Jorge (Matias Varela) and Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic) – who each become involved in the same crime circle and, ultimately, the same cocaine dealing operation. Jorge and Mrado are criminals already – indeed, the film opens with Jorge breaking out of prison – but JW is the joker in the pack. He’s a student – gifted, but from a humble background – who drives taxis on the side to raise the money he needs to hang out with his rich friends.
His part in the scheme comes from his knowledge of hedge funds and financial markets, which his dubious employers believe will allow them to launder vast quantities of drug money through the Swedish banking system. But JW learns, as do all the protagonists – in their own ways – that the criminal underworld is fundamentally a selfish one.
Espinosa directs Easy Money with flair, cramming a lot of information into a pretty breakneck opening, but allowing his audience to keep up. Safe House, his first Hollywood production, was understandably slicker – and was certainly not without merit – but here he appears to have more of an affinity with his characters, demonstrating a resolve to stick with them no matter what. If we think back to the scene in Safe House in which Denzel Washington’s super spy met up with an old friend, and how surprisingly touching that was, we’re in the sort of territory that Easy Money likes to reside in.
JW is convincing as a man drawn into a world he doesn’t fully understand, while the other protagonists – each with their own emotional concerns – are well drawn. There’s an element of predictability in the film’s closing reels, but that’s easily forgiven, because most of what precedes it is not predictable. In what is ostensibly a crime thriller, Espinosa even manages to include an entirely convincing ‘meet the parents’ scene, which goes some way towards demonstrating the control he has over his material.
He also gets uniformly strong performances from his cast. The three leads are the standouts, but the supporting cast is also in good form, in particular Lisa Henni as Sophie, JW’s love interest, who manages to do a great deal more than might have been expected with a fairly underwritten role. Matias Varela does a great job of being extremely charismatic while carrying a real sense of threat, and Dragomir Mrsic – with perhaps the hardest job of the three – manages to carry what is the film’s weakest subplot. Throughout, there is the sense that these characters aren’t evil, as such, but are simply waiting for the chance to escape the life that appears to engulf them. That desire fosters a sort of camaraderie, but also an inescapable self-concern. It is the film’s central idea.
If after all the build-up the film’s conclusion feels slightly anticlimactic, it doesn’t spoil what is a well-crafted and refreshingly unshowy thriller. You could argue that the way the script shoehorns in a blatant female concern for each character is a little heavy-handed, but in the event those relationships mostly convince.
The Swedish sequel has already been made and released in its native land (and a third is on the way), so presumably the series will be distributed on a wider scale in the months to come. The rights to an American remake of this first installment have also, predictably, been secured. This is not a film that obviously crie s out for the remake treatment – part of its charm comes from its multilingual, multicultural look at the Swedish underworld – but it looks likely someone will try in due course.