It’s easy to see why Martin Scorsese was willing to Velcro his name to “Easy Money,” a sharp-eyed Swedish crime drama.
This dazzler of a movie is right in his wheelhouse, given that it’s about urban criminals with moral codes and strong ethnic identities, plus there’s plenty of violence.
His credit, which flashes at the start of the movie, reads “Presented by Martin Scorsese.” The “Hugo” director only came aboard earlier this year; The Weinstein Co. bought U.S. distribution rights for “Easy Money”– its Swedish title is “Snabba Cash”– back in 2010 after its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival.
During the more than two years that the Weinstein brothers kept the movie warming under a tea cozy, director Daniel Espinosa made “Safe House” for Universal and Swedish-American star Joel Kinnaman became a recognizable face thanks to a starring role on AMC’s “The Killing.” (Kinnaman has also been cast as the lead in the forthcoming “RoboCop” remake.)
The long wait will in no way hurt the film. “Easy Money” has lost none of its considerable snap, crackle and pop. This is a morally complex and moving crime drama, filled with well-drawn characters and a taut plot. Scorsese got it right to endorse this one.
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Kinnaman plays Johan (J.W.) Westlund, an ambitious college student studying business in Stockholm who also drives a taxi at night. J.W. hangs at the edges of a wealthy crowd, trying hard to fit in. (In a telling touch, his dorm room is decorated with pictures from glossy magazines of male models wearing tuxedos and sharp suits.) There’s something palpably Gatsbyesque about the look of yearning on J.W.’s face when he falls for a privileged young woman (Lisa Henni) during a weekend at a sumptuous country house.
Soon J.W. finds himself helping to set up a money laundering operation for his boss at the taxi service, who is trying to pull off a major cocaine buy. This brings J.W. into the orbit of Jorge (Matias Padin Varela), a Chilean émigré and escaped con who is helping on the drug deal, and Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic), a Serbian enforcer who is working for a rival gang to stop the deal.
The movie deftly cuts between the stories of J.W., Jorge and Mrado, showing each man’s motivation, desperation and, in his own way, capacity for kindness, love and caring. It all builds to the big drug deal, on which each of the trio is staking his future happiness.
Easily one of the summer’s best films, “Easy Money” quickly draws a viewer in and then just keeps tightening its grip. Don’t miss this one.
(Worth noting: “Snabba Cash 2” a sequel, will open in Sweden later this year. The English-language remake rights to the first film were snapped up by Warner Bros. back in 2010 as a potential vehicle for Zac Efron.)