3:26 PM EDT, October 18, 2012
Someday, someone's going to make a film called "Easy Money" or its equivalent and its characters will encounter zero trouble en route to massive wealth and endless sunshine on a beach somewhere.
Meantime we have this "Easy Money," from Sweden and based on the Jens Lapidus novel "Snabba Cash." Swift and sleek, as well as violent and in love with all the usual underworld types, the movie pops right along as a cautionary tale regarding the perils of keeping up with the Svenska equivalent of the Joneses. Released overseas in 2010, prior to director Daniel Espinosa's Denzel Washington thriller "Safe House," "Easy Money" comes to the U.S. bearing the seal of approval issued by presenter Martin Scorsese, a big fan of the story. Once described, you'll know why.
Our watchful antihero is JW (Joel Kinnaman, who played a very different sort of desperate fellow on AMC's "The Killing"). He's a working-class student working his way through a business degree by driving a taxi and studying those whose lifestyle he covets. Throughout "Easy Money," characters meaner and richer than JW remind him to "stick to your own kind." But he likes what he sees, especially when he sees bright shiny things such as the lover (Lisa Henni) of a smooth entrepreneurial operator. Here is where JW wants to be.
And then he stumbles into a big pile of dangerous opportunity. The social climber becomes entwined with rival drug-smuggling gangs, one Latino, the other Serbian, and after saving the life of Jorge (Matias Padin Varela), JW hatches a complex scheme (to me, anyway) involving the purchase of a distressed bank on the cheap, for drug-money-laundering purposes. "Easy Money" takes it from there in various directions by way of various subplots, carving out considerable time for the story of the Serbian gang's strong-arm (Dragomir Mrsic), a granite-fisted man struggling to make time for both crime, which pays the bills, and fatherhood.
As JW becomes hooked on his rapidly upscaling lifestyle, Kinnaman makes the most of the leading role. (Kinnaman stars in the upcoming "RobCop" remake.) Like the French gangster film "Un Prophete," albeit a little lower down the originality scale, "Easy Money" conveys the ripe appeal and the mortal drawbacks of snabbing the cash the comparatively easy way. Which is so rarely easy. For the record, my favorite threat uttered in the film: "I'll kill everyone you know."
'Easy Money' -- 3 stars
MPAA rating: R (for strong violence, pervasive language, drug content and some sexuality)
Running time: 1:59; in Swedish, Serbian and Spanish with English subtitles.
Opens: Friday at the Music Box Theatre.
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