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what i watched last week

by request: easy money (daniel espinosa, 2010)

Movies that utilize American genres in new settings can be enlightening as well as just plain good. Sergio Leone’s westerns are a prime example. You see the same old thing from a different perspective.

Easy Money is a crime thriller out of Sweden. On the surface, it is nothing special: a young man from the lower classes aspires to something more, and turns to crime to help accomplish his desires. He is a student in economics, and he pretends to more resources than he has, all the while driving a cab to support his too-lavish public lifestyle. His boss introduces him to the cocaine trade, and as things progress, his acumen in economics makes him valuable to his superiors. But the cocaine business is much dirtier than he imagined, and he is more replaceable than he thinks.

This young man, “JW”, is played by Joel Kinnaman, the Swedish-American actor who made his name here on the TV series The Killing. Easy Money is the movie that pushed him to stardom in Sweden, and it’s clear how this happened ... he has tall good looks with a hint of mystery, which also describes JW. JW is too smart for his own good, and his moral center emerges rather erratically ... he has the makings of an anti-hero, but he is never important enough to reach such a level. Easy Money shines a light on people who want more, with the title serving as an ironic reminder that “easy” is rarely an accurate descriptor.

Kinnaman is solid, and the supporting cast includes some people who are very menacing (Dragomir Mrsic, for instance, is a former bank-robber). Many of the characters, though, are in over their heads, whether they recognize it or not. Attempts are made to humanize them ... even Mrsic’s “Mrado” is driven by the need to take care of his young daughter. But these characters are not crime bosses, nor are they on their way to becoming bosses. Easy Money is not the story of Tony Montana. This lends an underlying class structure to the film, which connects specifically to JW’s posing above his class, and then going down a dark road to turn the pose into reality.

Easy Money connected with the audience in Sweden, where two sequels have been produced. There are, of course, the usual rumors of a Hollywood remake. Zac Efron is the name most-often associated with this, but nothing seems to have come of it in the five years since the original was released. Easy Money is a touch above the average crime thriller, smart and stylish, recommended to fans of Kinnaman or to those looking for a different angle on the genre. 7/10.

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