It is very easy to see why Daniel Espinosa's Easy Money triggered a feeding frenzy among international distributors earlier this year. Because it deserves it. The best Nordic crime film since Nicholas Winding Refn's Pusher II, Espinosa's picture boasts an ever so slightly more commercial sheen to it than does Refn's and that slight touch is enough to cross it over from a loyal - and deserved - cult audience to the potential of mass appeal. Anchored by a trio of stellar performances; murky morals; a script that balances style, smarts and surprising depth, this is a solid piece of entertainment that also satisfies on much more complex levels.
Espinosa begins with a trio of seemingly disconnected stories. There is Jorge, the convicted criminal busting out of prison despite having just a year left on his sentence. There is Mrado, the Serbian gang enforcer charged with running Jorge to ground while struggling with his own family issues and growing awareness that his life is going nowhere. And there is JW, the smartest kid in the room, unfortunately blinded by his overwhelming desire to fit in with the wealthier friends he has made in business school. And as these stories begin to interlace and entwine, what we get is a taught, closely observed crime drama as all three begin to inexorably spiral out of control.
Based on a popular novel, Espinosa brings layers upon layers to the film. It is a crime thriller laced with bursts of graphic violence. It is a cautionary tale about greed and naivite. It is a story about parents and children. It is the story of people consumed by misplaced values. It is smart and sexy and thrilling and shocking and much of the credit for that has to go to Espinosa who shows a remarkable ability to balance out different threads and know exactly which one needs to be pulled at which time and how hard. He shoots and edits beautifully and has a natural sense of when less is more - most of the time - and when it's time to smack the audience in the face. And when he chooses to smack he always smacks hard.
Helping Espinosa immeasurably are his central trio of actors. Matias Padin brings a rough sort of street smarts balanced with vulnerability to his portrayal of Jorge. Joel Kinnaman is the archetypal boy who just really wants to be loved and is one hundred percent convinced that he never will be on his own terms. And Dragomir Mrsic, well he's just an absolute revelation as Mrado - a hulk of a man with years of history etched into his face, his performance shifting from meance and violence to tenderness for his young daughter with absolute authenticity. Mrsic is simply spectacular in his first major role.
Over the course of the year there are always a handful of titles that I manage to miss repeatedly at festivals and in markets. Up until now Easy Money has been one of those films for me, one missed when it screened in Berlin in February and missed continually at every available opportunity since. I'm glad to have broken that trend as it's one of the year's best.
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