The Book of Timothy teaches us that money is the root of all evil. Easy Money tells the story of three men who do evil things in the pursuit of money. Two, a Chilean prison escapee and a Serbian hitman, have convinced themselves that it’s all for the benefit of someone they love. The third, a Swedish economics student posing as a rich playboy, has no one to be selfless for and therefore doesn’t delude himself into believing his is a noble cause. Although he understands the banking system and is a numbers whiz, he isn’t smart enough to consider the consequences of his actions, which affect not only him but the people in his life. If only he had seen past his need to be someone he isn’t; perhaps then, he wouldn’t have been so easily lured into the dangerous world of organized crime.
Adapted from the novel by Jens Lapidus, the film was established as a critical and commercial success in its native Sweden back in January of 2010, and the first of two sequels is set to be released in that part of the world sometime this year. Will this first chapter fare as well here in the U.S., given the fact that importing Scandinavian crime thrillers has become fashionable? There’s no way for me to answer that question. You should keep in mind, though, that Warner Bros. has already acquired the rights for an American remake and Zac Efron is set to star in and produce it; clearly, somebody out there thinks it’s a pretty good film. All I know is that I found it to be quite engaging. I admit that it had more to do with the characters than with the plot, which is not only convoluted but also has a tendency to meander.
The central character is Johan Westlund, who goes by the nickname JW (Joel Kinnaman). He comes from the northern Norrland region of Sweden, which has consistently been portrayed in a less-than-favorable light in Scandinavian fiction, most prominently in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He was raised by working-class parents, one of whom is an alcoholic. His sister has been missing for four years, although he continues to hope that she’s still alive. He currently attends the Stockholm School of Economics, all the while keeping his past hidden and convincing his rich circle of friends that he’s actually one of them. He funds his lifestyle as best he can by illegally taxiing the wealthy patrons that frequent the high-end public square of Stureplan. After meeting an upper-class young woman named Sophie (Lisa Henni), he’s enticed by his boss, Abdulkarim (Mahmut Suvakci), to enter the drug trade and earn some serious money.
As this is being established, we meet Jorge Salinas Barrio (Matias Padin Varela), who opens the film by escaping from prison (rather easily I thought, but never mind). An expert in the drug trade, his plan is twofold: (1) To have his revenge on the man who turned him over to the police, a Yugoslavian mob boss named Radovan Kranjic (Dejan Čukić); and (2) to make one final cocaine delivery before leaving the country for good. His alters his plans somewhat when he reunites with his sister, Paola (Annika Ryberg Whittembury), and discovers that she’s pregnant. We’re tempted to believe that the unborn baby is his one shot at redemption, especially when he states that he can help provide it with the kind of childhood he and Paola never had. Maybe he’s being sincere, and maybe he isn’t. All that matters is that his promises are hopelessly entwined with a profession that’s dangerous and immoral.
We also meet Mrado Slovovic (Dragomir Mrsic), a hitman who works for Radovan and has been hired to take care of Jorge. Quite suddenly, he gains custody of his eight-year-old daughter, Lovisa (Lea Stojanov), whose drug-addicted mother is no longer able to care for her. Although initially bothered by his new situation, he quickly grows attached to Lovisa and promises to right by her – or, at the very least, do better than his father did for him, which wasn’t much. It’s summed up with his account of a childhood beating so severe, he peed blood for three days straight. As was the case with Jorge, his good intentions are overshadowed by his unsavory affiliations. Giving his daughter a better life isn’t simply a matter of earning money and somehow buying her protection; he should never have gotten involved with the mafia in the first place.
Abdulkarim needs JW’s social connections and financial skills to purchase a floundering small-investment bank, which can then be used to launder money for a cocaine syndicate. This is where Jorge comes in; his knowledge of cocaine will be invaluable for expanding Abdulkarim’s business. As for Mrado, he eventually convinces JW that in this business, friends are liable to stab you in the back. In other words, JW shouldn’t get his hopes up that he will get the money he was promised in a timely manner. All leads to a shootout in a conveniently deserted warehouse, and in all honesty, I expected nothing less. Although the plot and ultimate message of Easy Money aren’t especially original, I appreciated the character development, the performances, and the suspense. Here’s hoping that at least that much is retained for the English-language reboot.