Cold, brutal and extremely violent, the criminals portrayed in the Swedish gangster film, Easy Money, are about as pretty as the guns they carry. These are hard men, who won’t hesitate to break bones or teeth when it comes to getting their way. For them it is pure business, without the glamour that accompanies the gangster lifestyle in popular perception. They don’t have fancy cars and luxurious surroundings, nor do they have an army of attractive bimbos to surround them. Yet their lives are given a fascinating portrayal in this irresistibly bleak Swedish gangster film, which for my money, is one of the most absorbing heist dramas since Michael Mann’s Heat (1995).
Where Easy Money really hooks you in is in its lead character Johan “JW” Westlund (Joel Kinnaman), who plays the only person in the film the audience can identify with on some level. Johan, a business student by day, spends his nights partying with the elite, pretending to be rich when he is actually from a modest background. And after he begins a romance with society girl Sophie (Lisa Henni), he is left acutely aware of his own lack of wealth.
Here, he turns to a shady acquaintance named Abdulkarim (Mahmut Suvakci), for whom he has run minor hustles in the past. Abdulkarim asks him to pick up a contact for some easy money, but little does Johan know that this contact is a recently escaped convict named Jorge Salinas Barrio (Annika Ryberg Whittembury), who acts as a middleman for Abdulkarim’s cocaine business. Barrio has his own ambitions to make it big and leave the business so that he can take care of his family, while also looking to settle a score with Yugoslavian mafia boss Radovan Kranjic (Dejan Cukic) for putting him in jail.
When Johan tries to collect Barrio, he ends up having to rescue him from Mrado Slovovic (Dragomir Mrsic), a Yugoslavian hitman sent to kill the escaped convict. Eventually Johan gets in over his head, as he makes more perilous deals with the deceptive Arab mafia to make more dough, and soon realizes that there is truly no honor in thieves.
While the film lacks many action sequences, it makes up for it with a constant level of high tension and suspense. The film is quite gritty and grounded, yet powered by some subtly stylish camerawork. Skillfully directed by Daniel Espinosa, and released in 2010 as , Easy Money is now making it to select international theaters in 2012. The film is worth a watch, especially for the acting of its main cast.
Joel Kinnaman is fantastic in his performance as Johan, and portrays the gradual disintegration of his character under the weight of life-threatening pressure with convincing emotional range. The other characters are also played well, with the narrative extremely strong in the characterisation of its sociopathic leads. The subplots involving a pregnant sister and an infant daughter add a stroke of humanity to these hardened criminals, making them all the more nuanced and compelling. But if there is a real moral to this tale, it is that crime does not pay and that there is no such thing as easy money.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, July 22nd, 2012.