The Scandinavian crime wave led by Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy continues apace with Easy Money, a bustling, sharp-edged 2010 Stockholm-set drug drama that was released in the United States this year by the Weinstein Company, with the overline “Martin Scorsese presents” as a stamp of authenticity.
Based on the bestselling novel Snabba Cash, by criminal lawyer Jens Lapidus, it’s a look at the social net of the criminal world in the tradition of Traffic (British or U.S. versions) rather than a conventional police procedural. On the basis of this Swedish box-office hit, director Daniel Espinosa was tapped to direct the Denzel Washington thriller Safe House. As well, The Hollywood Reporter has announced that an American remake, starring Zac Efron, is in the works, and the movie’s star, Joel Kinnaman (TV’s The Killing), will headline the remake of Robocop.
Shot with a functional mixture of hand-held cameras and busy editing, Easy Money is a decently made film, complexly plotted and well-acted, with a panoramic sense of the European criminal underbelly (dialogue is in a half-dozen languages). But what really distinguishes it from any number of drug-escapade stories is the unusual and welcome sense of Dostoyevskian moral gravity of the narrative.
The film opens with one of the three principal characters, Latin American immigrant Jorge (Matias Padin Varela), rappelling a prison wall and racing through the forest to an escape car. Jorge has a pregnant sister he wants to see, but he also has a connection to a German supply of cocaine. Meanwhile, a middle-aged Serbian drug thug (and father of a adolescent daughter, Mrado (Dragomire Mrsic), is trying to get to Jorge to beat some information out of him before killing him.
But the principal story focuses on J.W. (Kinnaman), a preppie-looking type from the sticks who hides his poor family background while trying to fake his way through Stockholm’s rich set and pursue a wealthy beauty (Lisa Henni). Studying by day and driving a cab by night, he makes up lies to impress his business-school classmates. When a professor tells the class that one person’s crisis is another’s opportunity, he takes the economics lesson as a personal mission. Shortly after, when J.W.’s Arab dispatcher (and clandestine drug trafficker), Abdulkarim, gives him a fat bonus to collect Jorge, J.W. ends up saving the escaped con’s life. That gets him on the inside track of Abdulkarim’s drug-trafficking racket.
Then he gets a bigger assignment: With his blond good looks and preppie manner, he can be a perfect Swedish front man for laundering the illegal cocaine money through a troubled bank.
The rest of the story might be described as the brutal mis-education of J.W: This isn’t a Scarface-like rise through the ranks so much as a cautionary tale of a naive con artist who is way out of his depth. There’s not much fresh in the world of movie gunplay and car chases, but Kinnaman does a great job of conveying J.W.’s paralyzing fear. The flesh of his face seems to change as fear takes control of him, and he changes from a pink-cheeked glad-hander to a zombie-grey man who has made a deal with death.