It’s hard not to miss The Sopranos, even five years after one of the most publicized and most disappointing series’ endings ever. You felt a closeness and a sympathy towards them because it made your family seemed just a kilo less dysfunctional. With the new film Easy Money, director Daniel Espinosa replaces a bit of that Sopranos bada-bing with class warfare and gives us a wholly respectable crime film.
A multi-cultural pursuit of happiness thanks to cocaine begins with Jonah “JW” Westlund (Joel Kinnaman), a finance student by day and cab driver by night. JW has more than his next fare in mind as he wants to escape his lower middle class past and starving student present. Opportunity comes knocking when his cab bosses offer him a chance to nurse recent Chilean prison escapee Jorge (Matias Padin Varela) back to health for a small fortune.
Jorge seems like a small time hood and is easily dismissed by JW but adored by his aging mother and pregnant sister (Annika Ryberg Whittembury). Despite his past, he plans to make things right with his estranged family thanks a huge drug shipment that is set to arrive. JW’s handlers are taken in by his grasp of finance to the point of being enamored by an elaborate scheme to launder money on a grand scale, thanks to a tenuous relationship with the head of an ailing bank. However, when the Yugoslavian mob wants to hire JW, it’s up to their hitman Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic) to ensure that this easy money isn’t the death of them all.
Espinosa deftly mixes elements of The Sopranos and even goes retro, with the familiar tale of a guy who wants to be a somebody. He discards shootouts in lieu of inner battles, particularly that of the dapper JW, who is suave enough to influence mobsters, but not cold enough to fully separate from the bad things happening around him.
As if balancing moral dilemmas wasn’t enough, juggling a film that features voices in Swedish, Spanish, Arabic and Serbian and subtitled in English couldn’t have been easy, but there’s a slickness about Easy Money that’s hard to deny, just as the fact that it’s about 20 minutes too long. While the romantic element gives more depth to JW’s desire to climb into Sweden’s upper crust, the payoff isn’t enough to justify the subplot not hitting the cutting room floor.
He may not be donning a cape this summer, but Kinnaman plays the student/mob upstart secret identity as well as any crimefighter. He not only comes off as believable as the frenetic finance student who sells term papers on the side, but also as the debonair young faux-socialite when he has to. His facial expressions, soft spoken nature and panicked looks when his new mob life starts to unravel reminds you just how high the stakes are. Between the double and triple-crosses on the coke based menu, Kinnaman makes the fact that it’s all illegal seem minor compared to the muck he’s stuck in.
On the other end of the tough guy spectrum between the dapper JW and the tough, but physically unintimidating Jorge, is mobster Mrado, who unexpectedly gets stuck raising his daughter, thanks to his ex being addicted to drugs. Funny how life comes full circle like that. The transition from part time to full time dad establishes Mrado as perhaps the most identifiable of the trio. Having a cute (not in a Disney) daughter who seems at home playing with stuffed animals, but cries on cue certainly didn’t hurt.
Easy Money is based on a best-selling book by Jens Lapidus, so it’s easy to see why Espinosa wanted to stay true not only to the source material, but also the Maria Karlsson’s screenplay. Unfortunately, that loyalty leads to the story being a bit convoluted, but it’s still a fun ride.
It’s every bit a cautionary tale about a small-town boy from the wrong side of the tracks that you can imagine and it produces enough shades of gray to keep you intrigued. Money may not be the root of all evil, but Easy Money will definitely make you think twice. See the original now and brag later that you did, before the American version with Zac Efron comes out (no, I’m not kidding).