Easy Money (Snabba Cash) is easy viewing for anyone who likes a good crime story that examines the relationship between gangs, drugs and big business. Set in Stockholm where organized crime is still relatively young, the film follows three very different protagonists who all become vested in one big drug shipment. Jorge is a recently escaped convict and lifelong member of a Latino gang who helps organize the deal so that he can flee the country for South America. Mrado is muscle for the Serbians who gets betrayed by his own and decides intercepting Jorge’s deal is the best way to provide for his young daughter’s future. If the film has a main character for the audience to identify with, it’s J.W. who drives a cab to put himself through business school and maintain an appearance comparable to that of his extremely wealthy friends. His contacts at the cab company, money laundering knowledge and overwhelming desire for wealth all lead him into waters way over his head.
The director originally wanted to cast non-actors, perhaps to add to the ‘social realism’, but fortunately he didn’t hold onto that notion because these actors embody the roles perfectly and have the kind of performance training that doesn’t draw attention to itself. They may not have lead lives very similar to their characters’, but they almost look as though they could have. Matias Hedin as Jorge was sent to ‘ghetto bootcamp’ for five weeks to help get into character, which seems to have paid off. Dragomir Mrsic as Mrado looks like a buff, scary Serbian version of Danny McBride with eyes that make you think he has stories you would never dare ask him to share, no matter how curious they make you. Joel Kinnaman who plays J.W. has the hardest part to play as his character is the one with the largest arc. With his looks and talent, I can easily imagine Kinnaman making his way into Hollywood movies should he desire to take that path.
The film is based on a very successful Swedish novel inspired by situations the author encountered while working as a criminal lawyer. I’m sure much of the film’s merit lies with this source material, but director Daniel Espinosa has done his part as well. He seems to have a good understanding of the tools and conventions the genre provides while concentrating on how alliances are made in these situations and how flimsy they become when things start to go wrong. He makes many conscious stylistic choices, most of which work well. He decided to give the film a very overexposed aesthetic, where any sunlight always looks like the kind angels descend from. I think he pushes it too far in some scenes where the whites are too white and would cause me adjust the colour settings on my TV had I been watching it at home.
Anyone going into this film who knows anything about the crime genre knows that the title is most likely meant to be ironic. Anytime you have characters going after easy money or one big score, things never work out as planned. The Hollywood Production Code which has been considered outdated ever since Bonnie and Clyde had their way with the law on screen, stated that films should never appear to sympathize with criminal acts. The opposite is much more common today, where filmmakers will go great lengths to make you like the criminals by making them charming, family oriented or motivated by noble causes. Despite throwing out almost every aspect of the Production Code long ago and often reveling in going against it, filmmakers still rarely allow their characters to successfully execute any get rich quick schemes, because as we all know, crime does not pay. Perhaps one day Bonnie and Clyde will live happily ever after with their loot, but for now, as far as movies are concerned, there is no such thing as “snabba cash”.
The film has already had a very successful domestic release and was actually the highest grossing Swedish film of 2009. There are two sequels in the works as well as an English version with Zac Efron attached to star. With all of this hype it will likely see some kind of distribution in North America, but I doubt it will seen in many theatres here outside the festival circuit, if any. Despite being comparable to last year’s A Prophet in style, subject, and the amount of languages spoken by the characters, it doesn’t quite reach the same quality.