Volatile collision of tortured lives
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, August 10, 2012
Crime thriller meets cautionary tale in the riveting Swedish film “Easy Money,” which warns moviegoers about greed, one of the seven deadly sins. Most viewers don’t necessarily need the reminder, but rarely are the avalanche-like effects of avarice so vividly and terrifyingly brought to life.
As the film opens, the three main characters are going about their business, which means Jorge (Matias Varela) is shoving knives into the soles of his shoes to prepare for a prison break; Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic) is teaching a man a lesson by beating him to a bloody pulp in a public bathroom; and suit-clad JW (Joel Kinnaman) is sitting on a sofa, rapt by an arrogant man telling a bombastic story.
The scenario seems to indicate a loosely connected hyperlink drama. How could three such different individuals collide? But the meeting happens faster than you might expect. JW is merely feigning wealth. The business student would do anything to keep rubbing elbows with high-class hotshots, even sell term papers, drive a taxi and start working for an up-and-coming drug kingpin, Abdulkarim, who gets his supply of cocaine through ex-con Jorge’s cousin. The burly Mrado works for the opposition, a mob of Serbian thugs that wants a cut of Abdulkarim’s profits -- or else.
The story and cinematography are gritty, but the portraits of these characters are impressively human. Jorge cares deeply for his pregnant sister, while Mrado suddenly finds himself in the role of sole guardian to his young daughter. JW grapples with the long-ago disappearance of his sister as he tries to manage a fledgling relationship with an ethereal young beauty who is part of the jet-set crowd he so badly wants to join. That these three criminals emerge as mere pawns with little say over their fates evokes an unexpected empathy.
Working with three stellar actors helps those feelings develop. While Kinnaman’s JW emerges as the main protagonist, Mrsic, with his wide-set eyes and layered portrayal, may be the most difficult character to forget. Mrado is both explosive and calculating, embodying a deadbeat dad one moment and father of the year the next.
Director Daniel Espinosa (“Safe House”) creates the perfect atmosphere. Shaky camerawork and tight shots bolster the chaos and unpredictability of the volatile characters that populate the story, while intercut scenes from the three characters’ lives in early portions of the movie -- weaving the stories together -- almost subconsciously confirm the idea that these destinies are intertwined.
The increasing action and double crosses create an ambient crescendo leading to a final anything-could-happen rendezvous. Touches of melodrama bog down the story from time to time, and the relationships between the three main characters and their loved ones become predictably strained.
Overall, though, “Easy Money” serves as confirmation that Scandinavian filmmakers are making a bid to corner the market on dark and compelling suspense. It seems a little greedy, but at least they’re sharing the wealth.
Contains violence, language, nudity and drug use. In Swedish with English subtitles.