It’s easy to be impressed by the breadth of Easy Money, a two-hour crime saga that packs in enough dirty details, plot tendrils, and peripheral characters to feel worthy, at least in spirit, of the Martin Scorsese endorsement that’s stamped on the film’s posters. Known as Snabba Cash in its native Sweden, where it topped 2010’s box-office charts before being snatched up by the Weinstein Company, the movie ultimately benefits from a sprawling sense of narrative accomplishment, thanks to the comprehensiveness with which lawyer turned author Jens Lapidus’s hit novel is adapted. But coupled with the kind of gritty technique that can read as compensation for lack of substance, the scope is precisely what serves to mask Easy Money’s intimate failings.
To the film’s credit, there’s a discernible effort put into emotionally anchoring its grander scheme, which involves three key figures in the cross-cultural cocaine underground of Stockholm. Economics student Jonah “JW” Westlund (Joel Kinnaman) lands a well-to-do girlfriend (Lisa Henni) while secretly selling drugs to maintain his upper-crust guise. Prison escapee Jorge Barrio (Matias Padin Varela) has a nice Chilean mom and a pregnant sister, but he’s perpetually caught between the law and coke-dealing mafiosos. And Mrado Slovovic (Dragomir Mrsic) is both a hitman for the Serbian mob and the father of an adorable eight-year-old, who’s seen playing with toys alongside assault rifles. The humanization of these antiheroic outlaws doesn’t feel forced, but it does feel engineered, and there’s never a viewer investment to match the story’s wide expanse.
There is, of course, the many things on which the Weinsteins are banking, beyond the Scorsese plug. The U.S. release of Easy Money marks the stateside, leading-man debut of Kinnaman, whose burgeoning role on AMC’s The Killing allegedly impacted when the film would hit theaters. Fellow Swede and Safe House director Daniel Espinosa is seeing his name used to taunt action fans, just as the movie’s Nordic setting is being touted in hopes for Girl with the Dragon Tattoo déjà vu. (There’s also the matter of the inevitable American remake, which is set to star Zac Efron.) All of these drawing factors prove to be of little consequence—even, as it turns out, Kinnaman’s buzzed-about performance. Appearing both dapper and dangerous enough to ably pull off JW’s dichotomy, the lean and gruffly handsome actor cements his appeal, but the old-pro ease of his turn as The Killing’s Holder isn’t reproduced. However credible he looks screaming to the point of spitting drool, he’s still defeated by scenes that demand he make JW’s demons, failures, and inadequacies compelling. Espinosa, meanwhile, can’t offer much in the way of remarkable filmmaking, short of shooting his retro-gangster excess in various overexposed tints, and employing gradual flash-forwards to usher in scene transitions.
When Easy Money gets moving, climbing toward a taut, if predictable, triple-cross, there’s plenty to keep your eyes and ears busy, namely a near-maddening, synth-heavy score by Jon Ekstrand, who frequently throws in metronomical tones to underline tension. Along the way, though, the hard-hitting bits are punctuated by aching stretches of solemnity, whose minimally affecting content leaves them feeling a bit dutifully self-serious, as if abiding by the sober, grayed-out trends of the region. The film’s strongest aspect is its survey of race and class, which lends a worldly weight and irony to the story. Their respective sympathetic ploys may fail to stick, but JW, Jorge, and Mrado neatly represent criminal life as a great leveler, blind of all factors save the choices that are made. Operating out of a dorm room and faking a fab life on Stockholm’s glitzy Stureplan, JW conducts business in a suit and puts his education to use, shrewdly advising dealers in such matters as offshore accounts, and going by the nickname “The Brains.” But as circumstances rise well over his inflated head, this well-dressed shortcut-seeker is no different from a mafia hitman or a prison escapee—whose feuding communities, to boot, spout their own deluded beliefs on subcultural superiority. Easy Money isn’t quite decked out enough to be all that memorable, but it nails the concept that, in worlds like this, the clothes don’t make the man.