Editor’s Note: On July 11, 2012, Easy Money opened its limited release in the United States. In honor of that release, we’re republishing Allison Loring’s review from the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival. She was quite fond of it, which leads us to believe that you should read the review and perhaps even see the movie…
Based on the novel “Snabba Cash” (also the film’s original title) by Swedish author Jens Lapidus, Easy Money tells the twisted tale of what it really means to make “easy money” and the ramifications of those supposed shortcuts. The film opens with Jorge (Matias Varela) staging a daring prison break (despite only having a year left on his sentence), and subsequently falling right back into the world of drugs and violence that clearly got him locked up in the first place. But a move like that never comes without consequences, as we meet Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic) who has suddenly found himself a full-time father while still trying to run his (at times) brutal business practices. Far from the world of drugs and criminals is enterprising business student Johan “JW” Westlund (Joel Kinnaman) who is liked by all, but (despite how it may seem) struggles to keep up with the lavish lifestyle of his wealthy friends and classmates.
At first glance, it doesn’t seem obvious that these three characters have anything in common, but we soon realize that the thread that connects them all is the desire for quick cash, the hope for a better life because of it, and the various ways they each attempt to achieve that singular goal.
JW may be ambitious, but he is also smart, as we see him trying to begin a legitimate business venture with his boss (who runs an illegal taxi service.) While JW may be one of his best drivers (and makes a decent chunk of cash because of it), it is clear that he will not be moving past this life of hustle any time soon. Instead of agreeing to go into business together, Abdulkarim (Mahmut Suvakci) offers JW the opportunity to make more money – by running drugs for him. After some initial success, the two decide to expand and, having heard that he learned all about the cocaine business in prison, Abdulkarim sends JW out to recruit Jorge to help them.
Jorge is busy trying to exact revenge on the Yugoslavian mafia that had gotten him sent to prison, but instead finds himself bloody and beaten thanks to the mafia’s hit man, Mrado. JW helps save Jorge from the attack and the two (along with Adulkarim) go into business together. JW may now be in a business that is more backdoor deals than nice suits, but he still tries to live his double life and ends up meeting (and falling for) Sophie (Lisa Henni) along the way. When JW learns from Sophie that their friend Carl’s (Christian Hillborg) father’s bank is in trouble, JW sees it as an opportunity to buy it and use it to further his growing drug business. However, when Mrado comes to JW with a better and more promising proposition, JW finds himself trying to juggle an ever growing number of roles as he questions who he can trust, who his true friends really are, and what he really wants.
While these separate narratives eventually begin to bleed in to one another to become one, the time it takes to get from act one to act three lags and may lose many people in the film’s first half. While Easy Money filled its opening scenes with adrenaline, the pacing loses focus as the film slows down in the middle before picking up steam once again in the end. However, thanks to sharp direction from Daniel Espinosa, the interlacing stories come together in a way that feels more organic than calculated. Espinosa consistently lulls his audience into a false sense of calm before hitting them with violence that neither those watching or those on-screen see coming. Varela, Mrsic, and Kinnaman each deliver powerhouse performances that make their individual narratives watchable and complex, made even more evident when the three inevitably end up on screen together.
The Upside: Captivating performances from the film’s three leads and a driving score from Jon Ekstrand laced with interesting sound design elements create an unsettling story that is still relevant today about money, ambition, and the true meaning of loyalty and success.
The Downside: Easy Money’s slow start may leave some audiences feeling cold (or worse, bored) before the three narratives start to intertwine and the action picks back up.
On the Side: Snabba Cash was originally released in Sweden in 2010 and its sequel, Snabba Cash II, is set to come out later this summer. The U.S.A. will finally get to see the first film when it releases at Film Forum in NY on July 11th and the NuArt in LA on July 13th.