A tautly constructed tale set in the violent, multicultural criminal underground of Stockholm.
On the page and on the screen, Swedish crimers continue to storm their way across international borders. The latest to make North American landfall is the tense thriller “Easy Money,” based on the bestseller by still-practicing criminal defense attorney Jens Lapidus. Set in the violent, multicultural criminal underground of Stockholm, helmer Daniel Espinosa’s tautly constructed tale is Sweden’s top domestic grosser of the year so far, with production company Tre Vanner greenlighting two sequels; a U.S. remake is in the works from Warner Bros. starring Zac Efron.Without a built-in audience familiar with the novel (an English translation is due in 2011), Stateside prospects for the Weinstein Co. pickup won’t be as solid as those of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” but with savvy marketing and critical support, the first-quarter 2011 release could move beyond genre and arthouse fans, especially in urban areas. Before the title even appears on screen, the pic cuts among the three leading characters and their separate, soon-to-overlap worlds. Aided by spot-on costumes and production design, helmer Espinosa uses a disorienting jump-cut editing style, reminiscent of the early work of Nicolas Roeg, to quickly and confidently establish character information. Escaped con Jorge (the appealing Matias Padin Varela) is on his way to broker a massive cocaine deal that will thwart the Serbian mafia controlling the local drug trade. Mafia enforcer Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic) is hot on his trail, but luckily for Jorge, so, too, is resourceful economics student/cabbie J.W. (model-handsome Joel Kinnaman), who works for Jorge’s Swedish-Arab partners. Although none of the three protagonists might be described as a man of high moral fiber, in this world of double-crossing thieves, each has his own set of ethics. Cleverly playing with audience sympathies and expectations, pic reveals that Jorge wants to be there for his pregnant sister, Paola (Annika Whittembury), while tough guy Mrado displays an unexpected tender streak with his wearily patient 8-year-old daughter, Lovisa (the gravely enchanting Lea Stojanov). Most screen time, however, is given to the backstory of naively amoral J.W. Hailing from a working-class family in northern Sweden, he passes himself off as the son of a diplomat in order to mingle with the scions of old money. Soon after he starts the relationship of his dreams with sexy heiress Sophie (Lisa Henni), he panics when he realizes his pursuit of easy money has trapped him in a violent game where he doesn’t know the rules. Maria Karlsson’s multilayered screenplay makes the pic much more than just a crime thriller, beautifully incorporating themes of parents and children, misplaced values, and greed and corruption. In recent years, as Swedish filmmaking has been enlivened by helmers from immigrant families, languages other than Scandinavian ones have been heard onscreen; with dialogue in Swedish, Spanish, Serbian and English, the pic truly reps contempo Stockholm. As vivid and realistic as his earlier pics “The Babylon Disease” and “Outside Love,” but more complex and dynamic, “Easy Money” confirms Espinosa’s directing chops (it also earned him a gig helming Universal’s forthcoming Denzel Washington starrer, “Safe House”).Performances are strong across the board, with even casting of bit parts coming up aces. Jittery widescreen camerawork by Aril Wretblad and Jon Ekstrand’s ominous score reinforce the tension.