Thursday 3 May 2018

From the archive: "Easy Money"

Scandinavia’s crime spree continues apace. Easy Money, an intricate, accomplished thriller from director Daniel Espinosa, sets out by sketching a network of grizzled uglymugs at large around contemporary Stockholm. Among them, there is the beardy, slightly scuzzy Jorge (Matias Varela), a low-level drugs trafficker of Latinate descent introduced effectuating an opportunistic prison break; there is also the beardier, scuzzier Radovan (Dragomir Mrsic), a mid-ranking Slavic heavy with his own reasons for getting his hands dirty.

Then there is JW, distinguished by the fact he’s played by the non-beardy and model-handsome Joel Kinnaman, from the US remake of The Killing. As a low-born economics student, JW lives in modest digs, swiping a flatmate’s milk for his morning cereal, yet he spends his weekends sampling the highlife alongside bankers and models, chiefly by maintaining rewarding contacts within the criminal community. Caught between two very different, possibly irreconcilable worlds, he’s starting to feel the strain, more so after he’s invited to step up from providing occasional favours to lending his hedge-fund know-how to a major money laundering operation.

That stress on knowledge rather than muscle immediately establishes Easy Money as a proposition a good deal more cerebral than the (otherwise not dissimilar) Pusher trilogy Nicolas Winding Refn completed over in Copenhagen. In the course of that visceral series, Refn elected to examine one character (and one social stratum) per film, only gradually revealing his full vision; here, Espinosa juggles several at once, and the result is a rare film to feel as densely packed as a superior TV miniseries. (One sequel has already followed in its native land, with another incoming.)

Easy Money opens up its field of vision to follow (and humanise) Radovan as he spends downtime with his young daughter – which raises the stakes a notch or two when the pair are ambushed in a multi-storey car park – while Maria Karlsson’s script shows off the extent of its research in a scene where JW discusses why Switzerland’s close ties with the EU make it a risky place to have a bank account these days. (Fear not, taxdodgers: alternative havens are apparently available.)

Around this, Espinosa manages an ambient evocation of a long hot summer in the city – the timing of the film’s (belated) UK release could scarcely be more felicitous – and how this gangster’s paradise is but seasonal, perpetually threatened by the next Molotov cocktail or round of gunfire; these boom times end suddenly, and with a bang.

Thus it is that Easy Money comes to engage with some very pressing and familiar social realities: it opens with a flurry of almost Bressonian close-ups of notes being pocketed, and turns on JW’s realisation of the extent to which he’s become the clean-shaven frontman for the kind of beardy, thuggish or otherwise criminal malfeasance carried out by certain real-world institutions. An American remake – starring, erm, Zac Efron – is, somewhat inevitably, in the works: it would take some feat of translation if the results were to be as filigreed and subtly gripping as their source.

(MovieMail, July 2013)

Easy Money screens on BBC2 tomorrow night at 12.25am; the sequels follow on Saturday and Sunday nights.

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