Easy Money (2010) dir. Daniel Espinoza
Starring:Joel Kinnaman, Matias Padin Varela, Dragomir Mrsic
By Alan Bacchus
Three well developed and sympathetic characters anchor Daniel Espinosa’s grand crime melodrama, Easy Money. Already a hit film film in Sweden, it arrives at TIFF, already with the Weinstein Company repping it in the US and Alliance Films in Canada.
Jorge is a Spanish-speaking immigrant recently escaped from prison and reunited with his pal and partner in crime. In conflict with Jorge is Mrado part of an Eastern European mob whom he has a beef with in the competitive underground cocaine syndicate. The only Swede of the bunch is JW, a ladder-climbing university student secretly working as a cabbie in order to afford the expensive suits and the other high class accoutrements it takes to get in with the rich kids he idolizes. When presented with an opportunity to make some really big money, JW finds himself caught in the cocaine drug war between Jorge and Mrado.
Espinoza’s treatment of crime is in the world of Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, or Animal Kingdom version of cinema, a world treated with realism and characters painted with various shades of grey. Heroes and villains aren’t so easy to define. Espinoza’s clever to subvert our expectations and shift around his heroes and villains, double back on his characters and reveal realistic motivations for everyone involved.
The common denominator of the three is the desperate need for survival and desire for security and success. For JW, its his need to escape the life of poverty from childhood, for Mrado, it’s his young daughter he find himself protecting, and Jorge, his sister and newborn niece which prompts him to re-evaluate his priorities.
Each of the fine actors playing the roles brings freshness and deep commitment and inhabitation of their characters. Dragomir Mrsic as Mrado gives the best performance, and his best scene is a touching car ride confession after he has just taken custody of his daughter where he reveals his abuse by his father which caused him to become the hardened criminal he is today.
The social realism visual effect is laid on thick, too thick perhaps. The handheld camerawork is a given in these types of stories now, but Espinoza shoots his character so tight, all the time, the film is essentially a series of close ups. As a result the director loses the power of this cinematic tool.
With everything a close up, the world too closed in for us visually, barely allowing us time to breathe. As a result Espinoza’s realism dies out towards the end, replaced by heightened melodrama. The double-crosses, betrayals, and bloody sacrifices of brotherhood of the third act take us into a less satisfactory sensationalized crime genre. Espinoza does leave us with one last fantastic scene before he cuts to black, a terrific bookend to the opening scene which completes JW’s dramatic arc in grand fashion.