TIFF Movie Review: Easy Money (2011)

Dragomir Mrsic in Easy Money
Photo: The Weinstein Co.

Daniel Espinosa’s Easy Money (Snabba Cash), a Swedish gangster film based on Jens Lapidas’s novel of the same name, has already landed a distribution deal through the Weinstein Co. while Warner Bros. is attempting to put together a U.S. remake with Zac Efron in the lead role (not so sure about that latter decision). The film, in fact, was so popular in its native Sweden it grossed more than the third film in the Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, and resulted in Espinosa being courted for the likes of X-Men: First Class and ultimately landed him a gig directing Safe House with stars Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds at Universal. Is the film that good? Well it sure isn’t bad.

Easy Money is a fascinating crime thriller that continually raises the stakes with each twist in the plot and a handful of different characters juggled throughout. The only problem with this is that occasionally a storyline goes missing for too long resulting in a bit of a disconnect only to have it return later on down the line after you thought Espinosa had decided to abandon that angle altogether. Having not read Lapidas’s novel I can’t tell you if various aspects of the story could have been saved for future installments (the sequels are already in the works), or if enough had been snipped just to get things down to the current two hour runtime, but it’s still an entertaining watch.

The story primarily focuses on JW (played by Joel Kinnaman, something of a skinny Alexander Skarsgaard with the talent of a Gaspard Ulliel), a starving business student with a desire for the finer things. Easy Money follows his path as he hob-nobs with Stockholm elite while hiding the fact he works as a taxi driver and pulls such stunts as upgrading his clothing by switching the buttons for those of a higher grade. However, he will soon have an opportunity at the rich life, but he’s going to have to cross some moral boundaries to get it.

JW soon finds himself mixed up with Jorge (Matias Padin), an escaped convict with a connection to the drug trade. His current employer is also in on the deal and brings JW in thanks to his business smarts and a money laundering connection. Opposing this group is a local crime boss (Dejan Cukic) who doesn’t like people infringing on his territory without paying him his cut so when he hires a hitman (Dragomir Mrsic) to rub out Jorge things get a bit complicated.

Kinnaman (who was at one time up for the lead role in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor) is forced to play the role of JW in a consistent state of paranoia. On one end he needs to maintain appearances with his hoity-toity friends and a new girlfriend that believes him to be much better off than he actually is. On the other end he needs to keep his wits about him as he gets a crash course on the drug trade. Kinnaman pulls it off even if JW isn’t your typical Tony Montana.

Easy Money manages to pack a lot into its 124-minute running time and runs the gamut of prurient interests from sex, drugs and violence. Best of all, the sequel appears as if there is much more to learn as word has it Lapidas’s second novel in the series, “Never Fuck Up,” is already in the works for a 2011 release.

It’s easy to see why Espinosa became such a hot commodity considering the talent on display here. While Easy Money isn’t perfect in juggling its three-tiered story, there is no denying the tension involved throughout as we watch JW’s urge to become one of the elite turn him into something else entirely. Espinosa urges great performances out of his cast and this story has plenty to keep the mind racing. I’m excited to see what else is in store.