Easy Money (2012)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 02/24/14 16:38:40

"Fine crime fiction appears to be Sweden's #1 export."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Were we paying attention to Scandinavian crime fiction and film before "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"? I remember a few festival screenings of Nicholas Winding Refn's "Pusher" movies, but it's really just the last five years that this material has really started crossing the Atlantic, whether in its original form or as remake fodder. Sweden's "Snabba Cash" series ("Easy Money" in English) is running a bit slow on both fronts, but both entries that have arrived so far are worth checking out.

Johan "JW" Westlund (Joel Kinnaman) could use a little easy money as the movie starts; though at the top of his class in business school quite popular with the Stockholm party crowd, keeping up with his old-money classmates is draining his bank account. So he drives a cab, and makes that a bit more profitable by ferrying drugs across the city for gangster Abdulkarim (Mahmut Suvakci). A sizable sum of money is available for picking up recently-escaped convict Jorge (Matias Varela) and keeping him hidden, money that could come in handy with courting rich new girlfriend Sophie (Lisa Henni). He also helps the gangsters take over a bank to launder their money, but one of them, Serbian dealer Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic), is hunting for Jorge but also starting to question the life he's leading now that his daughter Lovisa (Lea Stojanov) is in his custody after her mother overdoses.

Toward the end of the movie, Mrado points out that everyone in this business will do whatever will get them the most money, and like many of the best crime stories, Snabba Cash works in large part by giving the viewer a reason to want the characters to do right, even though all the evidence suggests they are at best on the road to amorality. It's a nifty trick - we're given plentiful reasons not to like JW, Jorge, or Mrado, from just being kind of snotty to being killers, but the story (based upon Jens Lapidus's novel) makes sure that there's some sort of human connection that should be able to pull them back.

Joel Kinnaman has perhaps the easiest job of that; his character is positioned as a classic underdog and all sorts of reasons to be sympathetic. Still, it's on Kinnaman to let the audience see the insecurity that causes him to lie, or the resentment when he gets the chance to put something over on the moneyed elite that look down on him. He's not just a mass of self-destructive emotions, though; there's an easy charisma to him as well, especially when paired with Lisa Henni, who gives a familiar role - beautiful ingenue not quite realizing what she's attached herself to - the sort of charm it needs. Kinnaman is also a pleasure to watch when paired with Matias Varela or Dragomir Mrsic, who doesn't seem to lean on his real-life criminal past as Mrado as much as he gives the impression of someone who has made his way up a ladder in any cutthroat endeavor.

Crime is a dirty business in this movie, and director/co-writer Daniel Espinosa keeps the audience right down at street level. Cinematographer Aril Wretblad's camera always feels like an intruder in the room, seeing people relatively unguarded and without their best public face. Even when JW is in the middle of a wealthy family's party, it always feels as if the world has been dragged down to the level of the street criminals; shadows are everywhere and even when the action moves into the light, , it's a chilly, weak sort of illumination. We see a lot of plotting compared to action, but that works; Espinosa and company make the audience feel like a curtain has been pulled back and that just increases the excitement as they wait for things to explode.

And they do, although not so much in a huge Hollywood display of pyrotechnics. "Snabba Cash" is more crime than action, and it's a crime flick worthy of the "Martin Scorcese Presents" banner the American distributor hung on it for its brief 2012 release. It's a thoroughly satisfying bit of pulp fiction, and that it leads into a sequel that's just as good is a bonus.

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