'Easy Money' Pays Off
Kat Murphy, Special to MSN Movies
From the start, you can see why Martin Scorsese championed "Easy Money" ("Snabba Cash," from the 2006 best-selling novel by Jens Lapidus). This Swedish gangster flick blasts out from under you like a high-octane muscle car, swerving through prison breakout to thug violence in a john to rich kids at play in an upscale club. Connections are yet to be made, but that red-line narrative momentum has already propelled us into a toxic world of crime and punishment, haves and have-nots.
Like Scorsese, "Easy Money" helmer Daniel Espinosa believes "gangster films should always be moral stories," and this good-looking, tautly told, ultra-smart crime story imbeds big issues in riveting action. Everything's in a state of metastasizing decay, from national borders to economies to familial bonds to individual identity. It's a picture of an Old World coming apart, with not much of a New Order in sight. But Espinosa isn't preaching; he keeps his ideas animated, on the move, in the hotwired lives of colorful native sons and nomads: Swedes, Arabs, Serbians, Russians, Armenians, Chileans, et al.
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Our ride through these twisty byways is JW (Joel Kinnaman), a good-looking business major who lives in claustrophobic student housing and drives a cab to pay his bills. His kip is plastered with pictures of male models, for our man JW is nothing if not a chameleon, changing style (and even dialect, though we English speakers won't catch that) to suit whatever class or ethnicity he's hanging with.
At first glimpse, lounging in a nightclub's burnishing light, JW looks the perfect golden boy, all suave charm and long-limbed sensuality. And in the context of wealth -- the company of rich friends, formal dinner at a sumptuous estate -- he glows like a young Jay Gatsby. Gatsby must have his Daisy, and so JW fixates on a luminous beauty named Sophie (Lisa Henni), with hair the color of golden coins.
Hungry for money (how else is he to be someone?), JW hooks up with another tribe, swarthy "savages" emigrating northward to make a killing in drugs. His initiation into their brutal customs takes place in a sun-dappled forest: Dashing from tree to tree, he spies on two thugs beating a third nearly to death. Camera snaps from shot to shot -- JW's shocked POV -- and soundtrack music stops and starts, timed to his breathing. The golden boy -- "Mr. Brains" -- helps the new Huns to launder their loot by negotiating the purchase of a failing bank from a rich buddy's snobbish, ultimately greedy, father.
The film goes a little heavy on spotlighting how all these stalkers of easy money, no matter how depraved or violent, clutch at the illusion of family ties. When all other systems fail, family is the final fortress. Sadly, those bonds prove as unreliable as banks and borders and the drug trade. Dads are abusive or absent; a brother abandons the women who depend on him. The only girl JW may truly love is his sister, four years gone, presumed dead.
Espinosa deftly pulls all of the threads of super-twisted plots and counter-plots together to weave a dark pattern of lies and betrayal. Always aching to belong, JW smells like outsider no matter where he stands. His innocence is shattered by brutal revelations and rejection, most cruelly from a "blood brother" whose life he saved. Existentially, economically, ethnically deracinated, our Candide is finally forced to get real, morally speaking. As a Serb gangsta who finds himself on the wrong side of everybody in this killing game, Dragomir Mrsic's a standout. Not soon will you forget his fierce-faced violence: He belongs astride a steppe pony, riding down on a hamlet to rape and pillage.
But it's Kinnaman who rocks Espinosa's house. Tall and lean, blessed with an unexpectedly deep, growly voice, he's a talented shape-shifter, recalling early De Niro. Among "Easy Money"'s upper classes, he's streamlined, almost lizard-like, in his poster-boy seductiveness. Elsewhere, an etiolated blond weed, he's crowded out by aggressive Slavic kudzu. Memorable as street-smart narc in AMC's "The Killing" and feckless lover in "Lola Versus," Kinnaman's now slated to star in a reimagining of "Robocop." This sexy Swede is going places.
Kat Murphy once had the pleasure of writing a book-length comparison of Howard Hawks and Ernest Hemingway, friends and fellow travelers in fiction (Quentin Tarantino reckoned it "cool."). She's reviewed movies in newspapers and magazines (Movietone News, Film Comment, Village Voice, Film West, Steadycam) and on websites (Reel.com, Cinemania.com, Amazon.com). Her writing has been included in book anthologies ("Women and Cinema," "The Myth of the West," "Best American Movie Writing 1998"). During her checkered career, Kat's done everything from writing speeches for Bill Clinton, Jack Lemmon, Harrison Ford, et al., to researching torture-porn movies for a law firm. She adores Bigelow, Breillat and Denis -- and arguing about movies in any and all arenas.