Published on July 9th, 2012 | by Cole Hutchison0
“Easy Money” runs from July 11-24 at Film Forum.
Running time: 124 minutes; Rated R; in Swedish, Serbian, Spanish, English, and German w/English subtitles.
Daniel Espinosa’s impressively constructed Swedish crime thriller “Easy Money” is already earmarked for the inevitable U.S. remake that seems to lie in waiting for the majority of current Scandinavian films that attain any modicum of popularity. If nothing else, it will at least be interesting to see how the American version reinterprets the multicultural aspects of a narratively necessary European setting, although I do feel relatively safe in assuming that the compelling myriad of Swedish, Chilean, Yugoslavian and Arabic cultures will be replaced with an offensively simplistic sketch of the Latin American “criminal world.” This would be especially unfortunate due to the fact that the variety of backgrounds represented in Espinosa’s film is probably its strongest feature. By all means a competent and occasionally even touching portrait of three disparate men caught up in the same tumultuous underbelly, “Easy Money” just never quite manages to bring anything truly refreshing to the somewhat crowded crime-thriller table.
The film opens with what is probably its most rousing scene. One of our three main characters, the Chilean transplant Jorge, swiftly and somewhat effortlessly escapes from prison in a beautifully shot sequence that both sets a pace that the rest of the film sadly has difficulty keeping up with and introduces us to an immediately interesting character who never ends up being fleshed out as well as he deserves to be. An equally brisk scene introduces us to Mrado, a Yugoslavian hitman/errand boy who initially comes across as a brutish low-level enforcer but is gradually revealed to be the surprisingly softhearted father of an adorable young daughter that our knowledge of crime film stereotypes has led us to believe he could be all along. Clichéd characterization aside, Mrado is given surprising depth through a great performance by the awesomely named Dragomir Mrsic, and it’s regrettable that the film never quite fleshes out his backstory. This less-is-more approach to characterization is most glaringly utilized with our third primary character, JW, a Swedish college student of humble origins who uses his boy-genius understanding of Europe’s financial system to find employment with men much rougher and more desperate than himself. Unlike Jorge and Mrado, JW doesn’t enter this world out of necessity or nature; he simply wants to have enough money to fit more comfortably into the impossibly wealthy socialite class that he encounters at his prestigious university. Fateful circumstances bring our three protagonists together (don’t they always?) and—brace yourself—things don’t quite go as planned.
Set to be portrayed in the American remake by everyone’s favorite man-child Zac Efron, JW should be a less-interesting character than he is. A lot of this should probably be credited to Joel Kinnaman, whose performance is as believable and meaty as it possibly can be considering what little insight we are given into JW’s lofty ambitions and briefly skimmed familial history. This obtuse concept of “family” runs steadily throughout the film, framing the obligations and motivations of characters who exist as little more than ciphers with vague ideas attached to them; hard men living hard lives in a hard world. It’s hardly rocket science, but it is serviceable to the fleeting thrills and occasionally intriguing twists that the film does manage to supply. It’s regrettable that we don’t know more about Jorge’s relationship with his sister and her husband, Mrado’s relationship with his daughter’s drug-addicted mother, or JW’s relationship with his working-class parents or the circumstances surrounding his older sister’s bizarrely unexplored disappearance both because these men deserve the extra interest and because such information would help lift the undercooked climax to the morally philosophical heights that Espinosa is clearly aiming for. Instead, we just get another stereotypical clusterfuck, the kind that always seems to result from desperate men doing bad things for supposedly good—though unexplored—reasons.
As I mentioned before though, the film is beautifully shot, and there are a few moments of pure cinematic exhilaration. The glimpses into upper-echelon opulence afforded JW by his new and ever-growing wealth are as visually stunning and luridly attractive as any model-heavy commercial for diamonds or top-shelf cologne and proficiently convey the impossibly charmed existence he thinks he wants and deserves. Quick, subtle editing maintains the pace and thankfully never seems rushed or arbitrary. A few shots—most notably two of the same field of yellow flowers framed on opposite sides of the screen before and after a crucial turning point in JW’s flirtation with crime—work as both beautiful compositions and visual thematic markers. The performances are universally strong. Simply put, it’s an easy film to enjoy but not quite deserving of any real emotional or intellectual investment.