When I first heard about the Swedish film Easy Money, presented in the US by Martin Scorsese and distributed by The Weinstein Company, I knew I had to watch it. Because when Scorsese talks, I listen and don't even get me started on the brothers Weinstein, as those two are managing to singlehandedly change the landscape of modern cinema as we know it. Two years ago who would have thought that Academy Awards would have gone to a silent, black & white French film, a British production about a king who stammers and an actress playing an aging Eighties' politician. Well, The Weinstein Company folks did, and they gambled right.
But far from resting on their heavily trophied laurels, Bob and Harvey Weinstein continue to reinvent the medium of film in the US, with who-would-have-thought-it hits like Bully, The Intouchables and now this soon-to-be-a-US-remake film by Safe House director Daniél Espinosa, starring The Killing's Joel Kinnaman. The film is based on the novel Snabba Cash by Jens Lapidus.
Yet after my initial excitement, I found myself wondering just how to write about Easy Money which, at least on paper, seemed far from the type of films I typically feature in my pieces. So I enlisted the help of a friend, actor Eddie Boroevich to help me sort through the more testosterone laden scenes and seemingly violent tones. The nuances that may have eluded me while I watched the film in the typical way I watch bloody action films -- through the cracks in my fingers. Eddie is cool, smart and wonderfully into foreign films. Not to mention agreeably game for this little experiment of mine.
As far as plot, Easy Money revolves around three major stories, those of the Swedish JW (played by Kinnaman) -- a handsome graduate student who plays with the rich elite on the weekend and drives a cab to support his expensive taste in friends -- the Chilean Jorge (played by Matias Padin Varela) -- a prison escapee with the right connections and a soft spot for his family -- and the Serbian Mrado (played by Dragomir Mrsic) -- a Mafia enforcer who struggles between his job and newly assumed duties as father to a young daughter. Though seemingly as different as they come, these three men start on a collision course to fate that left me at once enthralled and heartbroken. Filmmaker Espinosa says "gangster films should always be moral stories." Therein lies his genius.
Eddie and I were hooked from the riveting first scene, sitting in the cool, dark screening room inside the historic Film Forum. One outrageous prison break, a drug heist, a love affair, one fatherhood tale, a financial deception, three great actors and an unimaginable cinematic climax later, we shared our thoughts.
"I really like the dark atmosphere that Scandinavian films tend to have, thanks to the landscape and even the lighting -- I hope the remake will capture that as well." He said.
"It's going to star Zac Efron..." I said. Silence.
"It's in the genre of those gritty and stylish gangster films I like. The kind that features the brutality of what the world is really like vs. what they think they are striving for in life." He said.
"Each character is so fully drawn, so connected to the world around them, it's probably the reason I started sobbing at the most inappropriate moment in the film. But in retrospect, I couldn't help it, I was so overcome by this crescendo of desperate emotions..." I said.
"Do you think JW did it all for the girl? To impress her?" I asked Eddie.
"Not at all, he would have done it anyway, Sophie was just a representation of that world, where he wanted to belong." Eddie answered.
"You know, the only question I have is how did that rope get there, just hanging from the prison's wall?" Eddie asked. And yes he was absolutely right, there was no one on the other end to wait for Jorge, how could the prison guards not notice it, that rope just hanging there... But we decided we could afford to chuck that up to the magic of the movies.
Ultimately Easy Money proved to be the kind of film that does not rely on gratuitous violence, hectic cinematography and over the top characters to make its action point. It's an oeuvre with a lot of soul, plenty of substance and loads of heart which, just as Espinosa aspired to do, finds its audience "thrown back and forward with their loyalty to the characters." Characters that are portrayed "as people who, from our perspective lack moral but from their own point of view are trying to do good through their own ethics," involved in a game that pits them against one another without "pointing out any heroes" -- as Espinosa explained.
And a final interesting fact to point out in this "he said, she said" review: the scriptwriter for Easy Money is a woman, Maria Karlsson. She proved to be the perfect collaborator to the film's male director and probably one of the reasons why Easy Money hit the spot for both Eddie and me.
Easy Money begins a 2-week engagement at Film Forum in NYC on July 11th.
Poster courtesy of The Weinstein Company, used with permission