Watching Easy Money: Hard to Kill is akin to an afternoon spent flipping the channels through four or five relatively decent crime dramas. The film is composed of scenes that are edited into curt shards, and while those respective shards are often commanding, there’s ultimately little in the way of authentically resonant drama underneath the self-conscious busy-ness. Director Babak Najafi appears to be terrified of boring us, and so every scene is jacked up with the requisite industrial-storm-cloud-gray crime-movie cinematography, shaky extreme close-ups, and ambient oomph-oomphy club music. The script, by Maria Karlsson, Peter Birro, Frederik Wikström, and Najafi, is all structure: an elaborate puzzle constructed so as to ensure that a variety of bad guys come into contact with the bag of drug loot that drives the plot. It’s often clever, but you’re never unaware of the narrative pulleys being tugged.
Hard to Kill is the middle entry in a trilogy that began with Easy Money, which apparently sported the relative novelty of incorporating American crime-film clichés into a Swedish narrative. And it was those clichés that hampered the film too, as Easy Money initially promisingly suggested an exploration of the place where white- and blue-collar crime intersect, and how the politics of navigating that intersection are informed by the usual mixtures of sexism, racism, and classicism. The film was populated by a fascinatingly mixed crew of Swedes, Arabs, Spaniards, and Serbs, all looking to make a killing in the Stockholm underworld so as to cure their poverty as well as their culturally instilled inferiority complexes. JW (Joel Kinnaman) served as our guide into this madness, as he was once an everyman: a poor, relatively naïve business student who pulled himself into the global drug trade as a way to earn the kind of wealth (he thinks) his snobbish blueblood classmates will respect. Cross-cut with JW’s plight were the struggles of a great impressive variety of gangsters, most prominently Jorge (Matias Varela) and Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic), a pair of opposing sad-eyed killer schemers with rapidly shifting loyalties.
But eventually, Easy Money largely discarded the cultural specificities of its milieu for the sake of serving up the usual volcanic action movie standoffs, and Hard to Kill proceeds to diligently offer the same kind of mayhem with little of even the hint of the global subtext that informed the first film. JW and Mrado, who are now inexplicably friends after the former’s betrayal of the latter in Easy Money, set about going after a bag of money in the possession of a middle man who reports to Radovan (Dejan Cukic), the barely seen criminal lord who set in motion the variety of blood baths that sparked the earlier work. Most of the other characters who survived Easy Money eventually show up as well, resulting in a sequel that’s roughly 30 percent recap, 45 percent laboriously convoluted exposition specific to this entry, and 25 percent gorily well-staged shoot-outs. Crime-film junkies will probably enjoy Hard to Kill, and it is refreshingly devoid of the macho braggadocio that frequently mars its American brethren, but the missed opportunities mire the film, and the series at large, in disappointment.