Sunday, July 15, 2012
I really wish characters in movies would go to more movies so they wouldn’t do the stupid things that characters in movies do all the time. That’s the first thing I thought as I began to watch Easy Money, the new Swedish crime thriller, directed by Daniel Espinosa, written by Maria Karlsson, Hassan Loo Sattarvandi and Fredrik Wikstrom, and staring that guy from the American version of The Killing, Joel Kinnaman. It’s really about three people whose lives overlap during a drug smuggling operation. Kinnaman is JW, a brilliant business major who wants to be rich for no other reason than that he can hobnob with other rich people (you know the drill: The Great Gatsby, A Place in the Sun, Brideshead Revisited, The Talented Mr. Ripley). At that point he became the least interesting and least sympathetic person in the movie. His life soon takes a sour turn when he becomes involved with Jorge (Matias Varela), a prison escapee who is helping the local Hispanic immigrants take over the drug trade through a shipment from his brother in Germany; his goal is to take his part of the money and run off to South America. On the other side is steadfast soldier Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic), a member of a local mob made up of Russian immigrants who don’t want the Hispanics moving in on their territory; when Mrado is saddled with his five year old daughter, he wants to take steps to make this his last assignment. JW is the beautiful looking Swedish born citizen caught in the middle. I don’t know if you can tell where this is going re the racial aspects of the situation, but I have to say I was a bit bothered by it in the same way I was with Oliver Stone’s Savages. JW has no real personality and as result resembles all those white actors who are cast in the leads in films about minorities because the producers think the movie will sell more tickets with a white lead. But here, like the main players in Savages, he plays the Aryan innocent in a country besieged by ruthless others, i.e., violent and amoral immigrants who are destroying the land who is hosting them. He is less guilty than the others not because he is less guilty, but because he has reasons for his bad choices while the others are just the way they are because, well, that’s just the way they are. In the movie’s defense, whenever the story focuses on Jorge and Mrado, it feels like there’s something fresh and even original here. They have fully realized characters with real and empathetic conflicts, both internal and external. But whenever the story focuses on JW (and boy, does it), it’s a pretty familiar one; he decides to help the Hispanics launder money using his business acumen (now what could possibly go wrong here) and the result is exactly what you think it will be, happening in exactly the way you think it will. (To paraphrase Claude Raines in Casablanca, I’m shocked, shocked, that getting involved in money laundering can lead to a bad end.) JW’s ending is dramatized as if it’s a tragedy, but that would be an insult to Shakespeare (it’s actually Jorge and Mrado who are the more Hamlety of the characters here, but it’s unclear that the writers and director realize that). On top of that JW has a girlfriend who sticks by him after everything goes wrong—perhaps the most ludicrous and unbelievable part of the story. There is one point where it looked like something really different was going to happen. JW comes up with a brilliant idea: take advantage of the bad economic times and buy a bank in order to launder money. When that happened, it really looked like the movie might take off in an exciting and original direction. But no. The characters make a deal on the bank and then…nothing, nada, zip; that through line is pretty much dropped. The direction by Espinosa is very flashy and full of hand held camera work and tons of editing. He does everything he can to make the rather routine story exciting, giving it the old “Orson Welles/Touch of Evil, I’ve got to do something to make this movie interesting because the story won’t do it” try. And you have to give him credit; he does keep things popping. And in the movie’s defense again, I should say that I do seem to be in the minority here. I went with a friend who loved it and its getting all sorts of rave reviews. But in the end, for a tragedy, I thought it was a bit too much at times full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.