Mark Reviews Movies

Easy Money


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Matias Padin Varela, Dragomir Mrsic, Lisa Henni, Mahmut Suvkci, Jones Danko, Lea Stojanov, Dejan Cukic

MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence, pervasive language, drug content and some sexuality)

Running Time: 2:04

Release Date: 7/11/12 (limited); 10/19/12 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 18, 2012

Three men from three very different walks of life are set on an inexorable course toward each other, and Easy Money (Snabba Cash) lengthily teases us as to how and when they will collide. This is a fine thriller that relies entirely on the characters' motivations and changing outlooks on the important things in their own lives to drive the plot instead of the opposite. The screenplay by Maria Karlsson (based on the novel by Jens Lapidus) cares far more about the decisions the characters make and how the results of those choices affect them than it does what new development or twist the story might take.

These are not good people, but neither are they evil. They are merely flawed, and the film opens by orienting us to where they currently are in their lives after perhaps a long series of questionable decisions. One is a poser affecting the guise of a successful, cutthroat businessman so that he can fit in with and attend the parties of actual successful and cutthroat businesspeople. Another is an enforcer with the Yugoslavian mafia who beats a man bloody in the bathroom of a club, just to make sure the guy understands he needs to pay his cut to the enforcer's boss. The third is a fugitive who, during the film's opening sequence, escapes from prison and almost immediately after goes back into the illegal drug trade.

That these three men will come together at some point is evident from the film's prologue, in which director Daniel Espinosa intercuts their introductions with choppy transitions that have one story momentarily bleed into the previous one. Johan "JW" Westlund (Joel Kinnaman) is the fraud. He wears designer clothing and hobnobs with the wealthy at parties where the alcohol flows, tales of financial conquests are told, and reputations are made. In reality, JW fakes expensive clothes (He keeps a collection of buttons from more expensive articles to sew onto the cheaper variety) and lives in cramped student housing. To pay for his lifestyle, he does driving jobs for a criminal organization.

The young man has a knack for business, but he's convinced his modest upbringing will only hinder him. He lies to everyone about his family, but when he starts dating Sophie (Lisa Henni), he feels comfortable enough to tell the truth, including that his sister has been missing for years. When he receives an offer to handle the money of a big drug deal from his off-the-books employer, the money is too tempting for him to refuse, especially when considering that Sophie is accustomed to a well-to-do standard of living.

Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic) works for the rival mob of the one for which JW does occasional work. Mrado has had a long career as one of the syndicate's toughs, but he's grown weary of it, especially after he must take full custody of his young daughter (Lea Stojanov) while his ex-wife is in rehab for drug addiction. His employer does not have the patience for Mrado's new familial responsibility or for his henchman's questioning of his desire to go to war with their criminal competitors. Eventually, he must take his daughter into hiding and come up with a plan so that they can leave the country.

Jorge (Matias Padin Varela) is the man on the run, both from the law and from Mrado's organization. He's the only person who knows when a massive shipment of cocaine will be arriving in the country from his contact in South America, and Mrado's boss wants that information. Meanwhile, the head of the rival outfit wants to ensure Jorge's safety so that they can buy the cocaine through him. JW is the one to save Jorge from Mrado's ambush. Through the fight over him, Jorge simply wants to ensure that his pregnant sister (Annika Ryberg Whittembury) does not go wanting for financial security.

Beyond the superficial trappings of the story, the one thing that connects the three is that their motives are relatively pure. There's a scene late in the film between Jorge and his sister in which she recounts a story from their youth: She was in the hospital, and he stole a candy bar to make her happy. That was his first encounter with the wrong side of the law, and it's been downhill for him ever since. As hard as he tries, Jorge has been able to help anyone because of how he chooses to go about gaining the means to do so; all he's done is caused pain.

The same, of course, can be said of Mrado, who at least had the common sense to realize that he could not have his daughter in his life until she is forced upon him. Now, in order to free himself from his past criminal endeavors, he ends up putting her in harm's way. It is also the path upon which JW has started, and just as he manages to begin a potentially real life with Sophie, he has put that prospect in jeopardy.

The climax and its immediate buildup are hectic, rely perhaps a bit too much on coincidences, and do no favors for the deliberate crescendo that has come before them. Even so, Easy Money has a clear understanding of its characters and is not afraid to leave them with some vital problems and questions unresolved and unanswered—as symbolized by the film's final image of a tattoo of a name (It should be noted that a sequel to the film has already been released in its native Sweden). This is a film that follows its characters into that murky gray area of morality and doesn't look back.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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