Every foreign film is fodder for my favorite game, “Who Does He/She Look Like?” It’s very American, I know, and it doesn’t work for every movie, such as The Intouchables and Run Lola Run, but it’s great shorthand for conveying the essence of an actor more quickly, and you can perhaps see what some American actors might look like in other countries. For example, Isabelle Nanty, who plays Georgette in Amelie, makes me think that that’s what Mena Suvari will look like when she gets older.
The game usually lasts only a few minutes into each movie, after all the characters have been introduced and there’s been time to really look them over and make the necessary assessments. In Easy Money (Snabba cash being the Swedish title), JW (Joel Kinnaman), who fakes being the son of a diplomat in order to be part of the rich society he actually wants to be part of without having to fake it, looks like a Swedish Justin Kirk. That may not hold true in other movies and photos of his, but for Easy Money, it’s there.
Jorge (Matias Pandin Varela), who has escaped from prison and has some family who doesn’t want him around, namely his brother-in-law, calls to mind a Swedish cross between Robert Carlyle and screenwriter Grant Heslov, who’s George Clooney’s producing partner. And Sophie (Lisa Henni), who JW encounters at a party of people who look equally comfortable being fake while being very rich, looks like Julie Delpy and Reese Witherspoon put together. There’s also a Swedish Tony Goldwyn roaming somewhere in the movie.
Normally, all this would merit the briefest of mentions before moving on to what the movie is about. I’m still not sure. I know there are double-crosses and triple-crosses, and JW inevitably falls in with the wrong crowd, at least wrong to us, smuggling cocaine for Abdulkarim, who also heads the taxi company that JW works for, and there’s one connection, the next being Abdulkarim’s assignment to JW to seek out Jorge, who wants to get back at a kingpin named Radovan (Dejan Cukic). Oh, and there’s also Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic), a hitman who’s sent out after Jorge, but is sidetracked by having to care for his eight-year-old daughter.
Easy Money starts off without the knowledge that it does have viewers, that those viewers are trying to understand exactly what’s going on. That’s not to say that everything in the world has to be simplified to bland soup in order to be fully understood, but for the first half hour, I’m trying to figure out where Jorge fits in this, who JW is. Yes, I see that he wants to be rich like all the others in that upper class that he so obviously isn’t from, but whoa, what else is this? What does Abdulkarim have to do with JW besides being his taxi boss? Does anything else happen? Do any of these people connect? Do I even care that they connect?
I try to care. Mainly, I keep hoping that director Daniel Espinosa, who made his American debut with Safe House, starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds, because of Snabba cash, lets us breathe for just a minute, turning away for a bit from the quick, vicious violence that bursts all over his movie. And it is vicious. An early beating in the restroom of a club feels like The Bourne Supremacy, but with a queasier motion. It’s not that Espinosa doesn’t trust his audience; he just doesn’t trust them enough. Fast, faster, quick, quicker, that’s all he seems to want to convey. You may not be done with a scene, but he sure is. If you want to know more about these characters, about their schemes, about their criminal attempts to reach the top of, well, whatever they consider the top, watch fast and listen fast. There’s not much time for you to absorb anything of value, that will make you think you’ve spent your time wisely.
It all goes back to casting. At least these actors are watchable, but the material, and Espinosa, don’t give them much value on the screen. It’s not so much about liking JW or hoping for better for Mrado, or wondering if Jorge will get his revenge. It’s about finding a toehold in the story that can get you deeper inside, and it’s not there. You spend most of your time, with all the jagged camerawork, thinking that Paul Greengrass, director of The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, isn’t such a bad guy after all. The rest is spent wondering when the movie is going to begin.
There’s nothing in the way of extras on this DVD, and that’s disappointing. I would hate to have had to sit through this a second time, but an audio commentary only requires ears, so closed eyes would not be a problem. I would have endured that to hear why Daniel Espinosa did what he did for Easy Money. Not as defense, or justification, but what inspired him to this point, what ideas he had while he worked, what he was looking to convey, and how he thought to go about it at first. Did he think of working a bit slower or was that not even a consideration? Just something that maybe could have made all this a bit better than the muddle it is.
If you like twisty crime dramas, you should try this. Martin Scorsese endorsed it, so that might be enough for you, but be prepared for those moments not only of boredom, but also of “Where am I?! What is this?! Who are you?!” It lessens as the running time drones on, but not by much.
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