Easy Money (2010) dir. Daniel Espinoza
Starring:Joel Kinnaman, Matias Padin Varela, Dragomir Mrsic
By Alan Bacchus
Did you see Safe House this weekend? Well, the job that got director Daniel Espinoza the gig was probably his home spun Swedish thriller Easy Money, which premiered at TIFF 2010 and was repped by the Weinstein company.
Jorge is a Spanish-speaking immigrant who has 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 with whom he has a beef 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 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 and 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 is 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 characters is the desperate need for survival and the desire for security and success. For JW, it’s his need to escape the life of poverty from his childhood. For Mrado, it’s his young daughter he finds himself protecting. And Jorge’s sister and newborn niece prompt him to re-evaluate his priorities.
Each of the fine actors playing the roles brings freshness, deep commitment and an 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 taken custody of his daughter. In this scene he reveals the abuse he received from 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 characters so tight all the time that the film is essentially a series of close-ups. As a result, the director loses the power of this cinematic tool.
With everything presented as a close-up, the world is too closed in visually, barely allowing us time to breathe. Consequently, Espinoza’s realism dies out towards the end and is replaced by heightened melodrama. The double-crosses, betrayals and bloody sacrifices of brotherhood in 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. It’s a terrific bookend to the opening scene, which completes JW’s dramatic arc in grand fashion.