With the modest success of Daniel Espinosa’s Safe House and a world-wide thirst for Scandinavian Crime Fiction (From the Lisbeth Salandar to Jo Nesbo), The Weinstein Company have decided to finally release Easy Money into the multiplex. Below is my review from the Toronto International Film Festival two years ago.
One of the criminal heavies tells a story half way through Easy Money (or its untranslated punchier Swedish title, Snabba Cash which delightedly rolled of the tongue of many 2010 TIFF-goers) about being trapped in an elevator as a small child with a friend. They pried the doors of the elevator open and climbed up to the floor above, as the elevator was half-way stuck between floors. The friend realized he forgot his sweater and went back for it, yet when climbing out for the second time, the elevator re-activated and tore the poor lad in half. Normally I am not a fan of such heavy handed symbolism explicitly in the dialogue (shades of Paul Haggis, maybe), but in a film such as this, whose goal is to completely re-purpose the gangster and ‘big score’ straight up genre picture into a more character based morality tale, a sign post or two cannot hurt. There are constant punctuations of violence and action doled out across the film that jolt and remind you of the standard Hollywood type fare, but Snabba Cash takes a steady, careful approach to building its three central characters, their relationships, and their anxieties before culminating in the big job, which is anything but ‘Snabba.’
The film opens with a parkour-esque jail-break as Jorge, a small-framed and small time criminal with ambitions to be much bigger in the cocaine trade in Stockholm, needs to get the hell out of the joint to broker the deal of a lifetime. Upon getting away he is on the run from the police and rival gangs in the city. In the mean-time, part-time student and part-time cab-driver, JW, is posing as a rich ‘investment banker wannabe’ (think Patrick Bateman and friends, there is an anecdote about Bill Gates that is almost worth the price of admission!) but is so broke he changes the buttons on his ‘designer shirts’ with a needle and thread to give the impression of a larger wardrobe and larger means. After a classroom lecture about seizing opportunity out of crisis, JW starts taking some risks with his Albanian Employer (whose cab business is a front for his real business in the drug trade). On the other side of town, Yugoslavian enforcer Mrado is working for the Serbian gangsters and charged with finding Jorge and shutting down or stealing the cocaine. Mrado, played by Dragomir Mrsic with magnificent screen presence, is unexpectedly saddled with his 8 year old daughter when his wifes lawyer just shows up with the child. With no family or friends in Stockholm, Mrado has little choice but bring her along as best as he can and keep her innocent of the guns and the drugs and eventual mayhem. It is a dangerous and daring choice to bring an eight year old into this gang-land equation, but it pays off in spades because the girl (Lea Stojanov) is such a believable character.
While there is the requisite plot, double-crosses, and overall criminal intrigue, where Snabba Cash shines is in the characters lives outside of the gangster stuff. The life of crime for our central trio is designed to be a quick fix to their problems, money is the baseline assumption to solve everything, but of course the means to get the titular Easy Money ends up throwing each of their family relationships into a tailspin. JW gets in a serious and intimate relationship with an upper-class girl, Sophie, but his desire to be at her social status threatens to bring the whole thing crashing down or worse. Jorge finds out his sister is pregnant, and his motivation slants towards providing for her and his future nephew or niece. The film lets the characters exist on their own before finally swirling them together in several unusual and unexpected ways. A buddy-relationship between JW and Jorge as they broker the cocaine deal shows how street-wise Jorge is and how street-wise JW is not. Long over-the-shoulder takes show how these characters are steadily walking into the wilderness, or are (each in their own way) so far in over their heads that Snabba Cash plays out far more as an intimate tragedy than a snappy action movie. Director Daniel Espinosa is very meticulous, but simultaneously quite sly, in playing with audience sympathy for these three vastly different characters, before yes, ripping a couple of them in half.