It’s easy to see why the Weinsteins and Martin Scorsese opted to bring this two-year-old Scandanavian crime thriller to the U.S. It’s a twisty, curvy yarn much in the manner of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) and Headhunters (2011), which means it’s a lot more interesting, involved and clever than its recent English language counterparts. That said, it should be immediately noted that Easy Money differs by being an extremely dour, downbeat and an even somewhat depressing affair. I suppose that makes it a more realistic affair — especially when compared with the ending of Headhunters. However, it’s also what makes Easy Money…well, not a whole lot of fun. That, of course, is likely intentional, but unless you’re particularly concerned with Swedish class distinctions (a central aspect of the story), its grim tone may feel a little forced and not especially interesting.
This is a film that cleverly pulls you into its story — or stories — by setting up various situations without seeming to do so. It follows events without explaining them until they intersect — almost to the point that the first part of the movie doesn’t really seem to be going anywhere. By the time the events tie up, you’re thoroughly intrigued by — well, just wanting to know what the hell is going on. The center of the film concerns Johan “JW” Westlund (Joel Kinnaman, TV’s The Killing), a working-class college student who feels the need to pose as upper class in order to fit in. The reality of living in crummy student housing and eking out a bare existence as a cab driver can never cross paths with the image he projects. It’s this — combined with falling in love with rich girl Sophie (Lisa Henni) — that edges him into becoming involved in an ever-more-complex crime scheme that is better experienced than described. The appeal of the film very much lies in the way the plot develops — and the way it involves him with two specific characters.
The other major players are Jorge (Matias Varela), an escaped convict with a pregnant sister, a Serbian crime lord (Dejan Cukic) out to kill him, and Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic) a criminal determined to make a big score in order to provide for his young daughter (Lea Stojanov). Both of these characters play key roles in JW’s dealings with the criminal world. As is often the case in this kind of thriller, loyalties are, at best, shifting and, at worst, non-existent. To the film’s credit, nearly every double-cross that comes along makes perfect sense — sometimes to the point of generating sympathy for the double-crosser — in the flow of the events. It’s clear that JW is the character we’re supposed to have the most sympathy for — mostly because he’s the poor boob in over his head — but the film is more satisfying for making Jorge and Mrado more than just gangsters. All the twists and turns lead to an ending that makes sense — and does so in a dramatically valid, suspenseful manner.
There’s certainly no denying that it holds your interest. It’s held Swedish interest to the extent of spawning two sequels (the third is currently in production) with most of the same characters and actors, so we can probably expect these to make the crossing before long. (And probably an American remake, too.) It might not be the “new” Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, but it’s compelling enough to warrant a look. Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, drug content and some sexuality.
Starts Friday at Fine Arts Theatre