Review of Easy Money

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The film centers around a man named JW who becomes a drug runner in order to maintain his double life. His fate then becomes tied to two other men: Jorge, a fugitive on the run from both the Serbian mafia and the police, and mafia enforcer Mrado, who is on the hunt for Jorge.
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Movie Review: "Easy Money"

-- Rating: R (sexual content, drug references, pervasive language and violence)
Length: 124 minutes
Release Date: January 15, 2010
Directed by: Daniel Espinosa
Genre: Crime/Thriller/Drama

Viewers are immediately immersed into the full plot of "Easy Money" without having any initial background information about the characters or what is taking place. This is a risk for the director to take but pays off for the audience. The first character introduced to viewers is Jorge (Matias Varela), who breaks out of prison and immediately seeks a safe house. Jorge knows a lot of drug trade secrets. There is a quick flash to Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic), a hard-nosed member of a rival Serbian drug gang that is not happy about Jorge's newfound freedom.

The main anti-hero is then introduced. Johan "JW" Westlund (Joel Kinnaman) has a secret: Beneath his seemingly expensive suits and charming style is a poor man who wants to make it to the ranks of the moneyed class. He is resourceful and the ruse is quite convincing. He even goes as far as sewing quality buttons onto his cheap shirts. JW is employed as a cab driver and uses the funds to pay for his MBA. However, he does more than just driving fares-his cab company is actually a clever front for a drug-running enterprise.

Sometimes he has to do favors for the boss. One of these is protecting a valued connection-Jorge. JW accepts the order because he needs extra money to impress Sophie (Lisa Henni), a well-to-do lady he met at a party. He expands his role by using his business school skills to teach the gang effective money laundering and how to invest in legitimate enterprises. All of this attention makes JW feel respected, and it is quite a rush for him and the audience. He and Jorge make major plans that could lead to the gang's complete control of the drug trade in Germany.

The Czech rival gang is not happy with this challenge. It wants to control the flow of cocaine in Sweden. Anyone else with more power is a problem, so a full war develops between the two gangs. JW also suffers from moral and ethical issues as he tries to live a double life: one life filled with honesty and the other immersed in the dark, manipulative drug trade. His convictions stop him from taking several courses of action. For instance, he won't go after Mrado because the drug enforcer always takes his young daughter with him wherever he goes. Mrado takes his role as a sole-custody parent very seriously, which humanizes what would normally be considered an unsympathetic character.

The screenplay was written by Maria Karlsson as an adaptation from a bestselling novel by Jens Lapidus. The story is engrossing and fast-paced, dealing with three connected plotlines all occurring at one time. While this might normally be confusing, the film and actors hold it all together like a nicely layered cake. The common theme among the characters is that all of them had daddy issues while they were growing up. They simply had few role models to teach them how to be good men. Many young men can appreciate this character background.

The film was initially released in Sweden under the title of "Snabba Cash" and was the highest grossing film in that country for 2010. Under the direction of Daniel Espinosa, the film caught international attention. Espinosa employed a wide range of filmmaking techniques that not only added visual appeal but also gave tension at just the right moments. Martin Scorsese even lent his name as a presenter. The movie's cinematography is excellent for a middle-budget film. It was the film that led to Espinosa's selection as director for "Safe House." It also led to Hollywood's discovery of actor Joel Kinnaman. Kinnaman has since starred in AMC's serial drama "The Killing" and the remake of "Robocop."

Overall, this is a film for those who prefer that epic action scenes are balanced by character-driven stories. There is a heist scene in the film that is worthy of a big-budget summer blockbuster. There is even a little bit of romance. The real treasure here is how the lives of three men intersect and how each meeting makes them look at some deeper issues than money. It is a tale of hopes and dreams dashed by hubris and the fallout. No matter what anyone thinks, money is by no means ever easy to obtain

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars