In recent years, Scandinavian thrillers have been given something of an easy ride. What’s often not pointed out is that – when you dig beneath the gloomy, downbeat exterior of these productions – they’re often, well, a bit… cheesy. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (and assorted sequels) is the greatest example of this, featuring a plot and characters that are more like something that a teenage boy would dream up than a fifty year old Swede; but even the critically impermeable likes of Wallander are full of quite astounding plot leaps that would be frowned upon in British or American productions. Among all this, though, there have been some authentically good films in recent years, and Daniel Espinosa’s Easy Money (based on the novel by Jens Lapidus) is one of them.
The plot follows JW (Joel Kinnaman) a talented business studies student who has a bunch of horrible, rich friends he can’t afford to fit in with. In an attempt to make some money that will keep him in preppy clothes and swigging champagne for the foreseeable future, he becomes involved with a scheme to import a huge shipment of cocaine from Germany along with an escaped convict called Jorge (Matias Varela). However, the local Serbian mafia aren’t happy about this, and charge enforcer Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic) with putting a stop to it. Mrado, however, is becoming disillusioned with his own position and sees it all as the perfect opportunity to double cross his own bosses and make enough money to finance a quiet life in hiding with his young daughter.
This is a slick, fast-paced thriller looks more to the American model than other Scandinavian productions in the way it emphasizes action and movement over gimmickry and shadowy cinematography. JW makes for an interesting protagonist – he’s sympathetic if hardly likable, especially in his inability to see his revolting friends for what they are – and his shifting relationships with Jorge and Mrado have something of James Ellroy about them. The performances are also excellent (especially Matias Varela, who recently was fed to eels in The Borgias). It was hugely successful in Scandinavia, and has spawned two quickfire sequels which weren’t directed by Espinosa (who went on to make the Denzel Washington film Safe House) but do feature much the same cast.