Rating: ★★★☆☆

Daniél Espinosa’s adaptation of the first in Jens Lapidus’s best-selling “Stockholm Noir” trilogy, Easy Money, revolves around three characters; Jorge (Matias Varela), an escaped convict looking to revenge those who snitched on him and make one last coke deal before skipping town; Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic), a hitman tasked with taking Jorge down, while having to look after his young daughter; and JW (Joel Kinnaman), a slick, good-looking young man who socialises with Sweden’s wealthy elite, but is in fact a fraud, a broke student, living in digs, and working as a taxi driver to maintain his image.

Through and through, this is a slickly assembled crime drama, probing deep into timely themes in the wake of the recession – and was released natively in 2010, during the dark heart of the decline – intersecting with JW’s own trepidations, as he notices a beautiful, wealthy young woman and is told simply to “stick to his own kind”. He views class as a limiting construct, and as such we immediately identify with his motivation to move into organised crime, even if appreciating the irony that, with his intelligence, he shouldn’t need to.

The job is simple; pick up Jorge, and stash him at his student digs for a few days. Easy money, JW thinks, but of course, it’s never that easy, and JW soon enough finds his smarts driving him to more ambitious sources of income, instructing a group of financiers to leverage the financial crisis into their own scheme by buying a bank. On the criminal side of things, it’s not as gung-ho as some of our home-set offerings; the goal even on the part of the hitman is to avoid crime warfare and keep the cops away.

Though at times Espinosa’s film feels in danger of succumbing to the maudlin proceduralism of too many cop serials – and its 2-hour runtime feels unquestionably padded by the various dramatic subplots – a healthy infusion of dark humour keeps thinks perky, specifically when we observe the ingeniously depraved ways in which the criminals conceal drugs, in cabbages, and amazingly, in the fur of dogs.

Action, meanwhile, comes in infrequent bursts but is technically proficient and kinetic, though as was apparent in Espinosa’s recent Safe House, shaky cam is unquestionably abused during the more frantic moments. The sound editing on the film’s various fistfights is particularly effective, and help give the film a Scorsese-esque vibe. Particularly efficient is the tense and visually thrilling finale, which at least provides slightly greater rhyme and reason to the familial drama we’ve sat through prior.

It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s well-lensed and enjoyable to a point. A padded but entertaining Scandinavian thriller made memorable thanks to its timely economic context.

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This article was first posted on October 21, 2012