Ashamed of his roots, business school whiz, Johann 'JW' Westlund (Joel Kinnaman) dresses the part and tries to move in rich kid circles. Living in student digs and working part time for a cab firm brings him into contact with less salubrious characters including the drug-running Turkish operators of the cab firm. Recognising his talents for juggling numbers, the Turks bring him in as their financial advisor and launderer on a big dope deal. JW delivers in spades, identifying, through his circles, a failing bank to launder the money through. However, JW is soon out of his depth, in danger, unable to keep feet in both worlds and maintain his masquerade, especially from his new rich girlfriend Sophie (Lisa Henni).
Swedish filmmaker Daniel Espinosa put together a first-rate action thriller earlier this year with Safe House, a Hollywood production starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds. This is the reason he got the job: released in Sweden in 2010, when it topped the year’s box-office takings, Easy Money is a taut crime film that keeps you off balance and makes good use of unexpected detail. It conforms to the contours of its genre, but the technical skills don’t just add to the adrenalin and anticipation, they inspire an element of nervous existential dread as a collection of Stockholm residents clash, coexist and clash again as each tries to further himself.
keeps you off balance and makes good use of unexpected detail
'To money, and to never looking back," goes a toast delivered during the film, and by the picture’s end it’s a kind of curse – neither is easily obtainable. The protagonists are Jorge (Matias Varela), who we first meet escaping from jail (a little too easily, but then the authorities are barely present in the movie), so he can get back to the drug trade he believes will make him; Mrado (Dragomir Vrsic) an ageing enforcer with the Serbian mafia who has been assigned to kill Jorge, lest his connections set up a rival syndicate with a powerful new source of illicit income, but is sidetracked by taking responsibility for his young daughter while his estranged wife has drug addiction treatment; and JW (Joel Kinnaman), a handsome business student who presents an image of wealth to his privileged peers but secretly drives a taxi and sells term papers to fellow students.
Working from Maria Karlsson’s adaptation of a novel by Jens Lapidus, Espinosa takes time to delineate the trio, especially JW, who can never quite shake the fear that his performance will be found out. The young man, who lies about his family without thought of the future just to maintain his veneer in the present, bubbles with self-loathing and acquisitive fervour; at a party at a wealthy estate he slips away and stands alone in a lavishly maintained room acting out fantasies of ownership and family.
This is a Sweden of ethnic crime syndicates, while JW is from the country’s northern reaches. 'You’re not from around here are you," Jorge says after JW rescues him from execution by Mrado, and the 'here" is a life of crime. The plot moves from drug connections in Germany to investment banks that will launder the profits, but the deals are never quite as conclusive or unforgiving as everyone imagines, and to succeed is to simply put yourself in a position to be sold out.
The writing is strong, with unforced grace notes such as Mrado following a father with his own child through the supermarket and buying everything he does, but it’s elevated by Espinosa’s technique, which brings a lyrical feel to the covenants of modern action cinema. There is the jagged camera, the perpetual movement, the fascination with half-light and the contrast of neon, but never to a point of excess or the deprivation of the leads. The trio, all marked by dismal fathers, all hoping to take care of someone else, are motivated by more than just ruthlessness. It makes for intriguing characters, but also ones that are fated to never get what they want.