By Matthew Hammond

Easy Money is a strange beast. In a sense, Daniel Espinosa’s dynamic film is a modern gangster opus for the recession era.

It follows three main narrative threads, each one following one of three central and complex characters whose lives intersect through the world of drugs, violence and power. Johan ‘JW’ Westlund, a young student who lives as a chameleon, moving between life as a taxi driver and a façade he applies to appear wealthy and prosperous; Jorge, a convict who escapes from prison in order to establish a drug deal that will transform his and his families’ life; and Mrado, a right hand man for a local Serbian gang lord, whose perspective of life is changed by the sudden presence of his 8 year old daughter.

The way these three character’s world combines and relationships fluctuate is perhaps the most interesting and successful element of the whole film, as alliances are formed and destroyed, double crosses and a mosaic of deception leave each man facing up to their past misdeeds and the fragility of their future dreams.

JW, played by up and coming talent Joel Kinnaman, is particularly magnetic. Seemingly something of a slimy snake in the grass on first impression; as the film progresses, his character evolves, bending and breaking under the pressure of the conflict between the illusion of his fantasy world of prosperity, and the grim reality of his gang involvement.

Kinnaman beautifully expressing this internal struggle bubbling to the surface and cracking his carefully preened exterior. However, the finale of the film falls slightly upon it’s own face; an exciting standoff full of action, intensity and deceit sets the stage but the actions of JW at the most crucial moment are so out of character for it to feel forced and something of betrayal of what had already been so meticulously crafted.


The film’s cinematography is somewhat reflective of the film’s dichotomy. It moves between a number of different techniques and style with varying degrees of success. Moving between utilizing the shaky-cam technique that has been overused in recent years in action cinema, the cool crisp style of American gangster films of the 1980’s, a gritty handheld style that is reminiscent of the harsh reality of Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet (2009), and even rare moments of absolute beauty you would never expect in such a film.

In particular, a short scene between JW and the society girl of his dreams, Sophie, lying together in a wooded area as the morning sun glows softly, is stunning, and even reminiscent of the soft light and the poetic visual language of F.W. Murnau’s masterpiece Sunrise (1927).

However, while the film is able to express moments of such unexpected beauty, the sheer range of different styles on display is ultimately a hindrance; as rather than coalesce in a expressive collage of style and influence, the result is rather a patchwork that doesn’t always fit and is almost schizophrenic in shifting visual language.

Easy Money is an interesting addition to the European crime genre; it flirts with moments as exciting and gloriously visualised as the great American gangster films of Martin Scorsese, boasts a true star performance from Joel Kinnaman, and its rendering of the economic uncertainty of modern Europe through the dealings and power relationships of the criminal underworld is a breathtakingly bold.

However, a weak conclusion, over-reliance on generic convention, and cinematography that is beautiful at times but also too conventional at others, ultimately damage the film and make it a pretender rather than a true classic.

Overall, Easy Money is an extremely watchable gangster flick, but one that will not last long in the memory despite its admirable efforts.

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