Where once Swedish films were synonymous with Ingmar Bergman and serious art-house fare, today crime and film noir is all the rage. Although given the Swedish climate, maybe we should instead call it film blanc.
The latest such crime thriller to open in North American theaters is the 2010 “Easy Money” (“Snabba Cash”). Indeed the movie is slickly made and efficient enough for Martin Scorsese to stamp it with an approving above-the-title presentational credit. He certainly recognizes the moral landscape and its deadly characters if not the locales.
The movie directed by Daniel Espinosa takes place in an urban stew of Swedish and ethnic minorities that comprise the criminal underworld, not unlike the Italian, Irish and Jewish gangsters of Scorsese’s films. So Spanish, Serbians, Albanians and Swedes conspire together yet no groups trusts the other. Hell, they don’t even trust each other.
Based loosely on a novel by Jens Lapidus, the movie is impressive for its dark atmosphere and apprehensive mood. In the rush to tell a complex story, some plot details gets lost or tangled but the moral murkiness stands out. In fact, among its main male characters, there’s no such thing as a good guy.
So it’s interesting to watch Espinosa play a game with his audience, making you like maybe one guy more than the next or humanizing a character only to pull out the rug and dump him into the same moral cesspool. See, he seems to say, they’re all alike. So why did you like this guy?
Online commentators familiar with the original novel have complained about the movie’s many deviations from its source material. Since I haven’t read the book, I can only notice the holes and plot fragments that often occur when you inexpertly rip story lines from lengthy novels. But since I don’t miss anything, the film feels well crafted and the general thrust of all its subplots goes smoothly enough.
(The adaptation was written by Maria Karlsson but the writing credits contain an odd “in cooperation with” and lists several other writers including the director. The WGA would certainly never allow that here.)
The focus is on three very different men. The first, Jorge (Matias Padin Varela), escapes from prison at the beginning of the movie. This sets in motion a major drug deal that will envelop all the movie’s characters. He had only a year left to serve but for some reason has to get out to initiate the deal so he ultimately can flee to South America with lots of loot.
JR (Joel Kinnaman), who compared to all the other crooks is very white and very naïve, is a university business student of modest origins who wants to hob-nob with the wealthy elite. Indeed he has fallen for an heiress, Sophie (Lisa Henni), and thinks — a viewer is encouraged to believe wrongly — that she won’t accept him unless he’s loaded.
Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic) is an enforcer in the Serbian mafia looking for a way out. Complicating his life as a gang war threatens to break out is his ex-wife’s drug problem, which has saddled him with an 8-year-old daughter Lovisa (Lea Stojanov). It’s hard to take a young girl to war council meetings but he has to.
The delivery of a massive amount of cocaine sucks everyone into its gravitational pull. While mob leaders see this as the beginning of a whole new supply line, the three protagonists view it as the illusory “last big deal” that will free them all to live lives they so desperately want.
Yeah, where have we heard that one before? But Espinosa keeps it fresh by delving into the lives of these three characters just enough to create audience empathy.
JR’s relationship with Sophie develops into a genuine love affair — let’s meet the parents and the whole nine yards. Jorge’s sister is pregnant but her brother’s prison break and subsequent police and mob hunt for him is jeopardizing her marriage. And Mrado’s increasing involvement with his kid reinforces his desire to “retire” by pulling this last job and hightailing it back to Serbia.
Probably the one major element that lacks credibility is the absurd naivety of JR. You can’t just do a little money laundering for mobsters without getting dirty yourself. Hasn’t he seen any Scorsese movies? And why the mobsters even want this non-pro hanging around drug drops and crime scenes is a mystery. He can only gum up the works.
Otherwise the two hour-plus movie goes by like a bullet, egged on by Jon Ekstrand’s pulsating electronic score somewhat reminiscent of Giorgio Moroder back in disco days. Aril Wretblad’s cinematography goes for an arresting overexposure so the movie takes place in a dazzling northern light that seems to almost blind the eyes of people used to long dark winters.
Film blanc indeed.
Opens: July 13, 2012 (The Weinstein Co.)
Production companies: Film i Väst/Tre Vänner Produktion AB
Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Matias Padin Varela, Dragomir Mrsic, Lisa Henni, Dejan Čukić, Annika Whittembury
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Screenwriter: Maria Karlsson
Based on the novel by: Jens Lapidus
Producer: Fredrik Wikström
Executive producer: Michael Hjorth
Director of photography: Aril Wretblad
Production designer: Roger Rosenberg
Music: Jon Ekstrand
Costume designer: Denise Östholm
Editor: Theis Schmidt
R rating, 125 minutes