Starring Joel Kinnaman, Matias Varela. Written by Maria Karlsson from a novel by Jens Lapidus. Directed by Daniel Espinosa.
14A. 124 min. Opens Aug. 24.
A TIFF standout in 2010 and a massive hit in Scandinavia, Daniel Espinosa’s adaptation of Jens Lapidus’ novel is finally getting a North American release, with posters and trailers that flaunt Martin Scorsese’s name as presenter. Yet the goodfella’s imprimatur here may actually work against Espinosa and his film, seeing as his efforts to back up Easy Money’s stylistic flash with some dramatic substance inevitably seem a bit clumsy when compared to Scorsese’s more refined skill set.
Even so, there’s much to admire about this foray into Sweden’s criminal underworld. Easy Money’s best asset is the lead performance by Joel Kinnaman, a Swedish-American actor who was similarly impressive as a detective in AMC’s The Killing and a villain in Safe House, Espinosa’s recent English-language debut.
Kinnaman stars as J.W., a business student who disguises his humble origins to his far wealthier peers. In his other life as a cab driver, J.W. crosses paths with two men who are more deeply immersed in Stockholm’s drug trade: Jorge (Matias Varela), a Chilean small-timer who makes a daring prison break in the opening scene, and Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic), a Serbian heavy working for the gangsters who want in on the massive coke deal that Jorge is arranging for his Arab partners. Seeing an opportunity to get rich for real, J.W. finds a place for himself in Jorge’s plans. But personal woes and obligations may foil the professional ambitions of all three men.
As those matters come more strongly to the foreground, Easy Money loses some of the intensity that marks the film’s first hour. It also seems a miscalculation to concentrate on all three characters when J.W. is by far the most compelling. A sensitive young man who sees worldly success as his only means to escape his spiral of self-loathing, he comes to seem less like a conflicted hero than a sociopath in training.