Film Review: Easy Money: Hard to Kill

The fast-paced sequel to a popular 2010 Swedish thriller (a third movie has been released in Sweden) picks up three years later and reiterates the message that the road to easy money is littered with betrayal, shattered dreams and, of course, corpses.

Just three years ago, JW (Joel Kinnaman of the RoboCop reboot) was a Swedish wolf of Wall Street in the making (Martin Scorsese lent his name to the first Easy Money's brief U.S. release). But while JW's smarts are real, his one-percenter façade wasn’t, and his efforts to raise fake-it-till-you-make-it cash in concert with drug-dealing Serbian gangsters went down in flames.

Now he's doing time, to all appearances a model prisoner: JW stays busy dispensing tax advice and financial tips to influential inmates, keeps his head low, and even weathered the arrival of wheelchair-bound Serbian tough Mrado Stovic (bank robber-turned-actor Dragomir Mrsic), who was paralyzed when JW's plan went south. Everyone from staff to trustees was taking bets on how long it would be before one made a run at the other; the men forged an unlikely friendship instead.

So JW is granted parole and instantly begins implementing a new plan to put him back where he thinks he belongs. This time it's not all grift: JW spent his years behind bars developing a potentially lucrative software that facilitates stock trades. The trouble is that all the crooks in Sweden aren't in jail, starting with the old college pal (Joel Spira) who screws JW out of the potential software bonanza and launches him on an increasing desperate quest to salvage what he can and reconnect with the world of people whose dreams keep them grounded rather than driving them into one where nothing is certain except disappointment and betrayal. Meanwhile, small-time thugs Jorge (Matias Varela) and Mahmoud (Fares Fares), both immigrants with more ambition and desperate nerve than brains, are trapped in a hellish race to the bottom orchestrated by Radovan (Dejan Cukic), the same ruthless crime lord whose machinations helped derail JW's life in the first place.

Easy Money: Hard to Kill isn't a genre changer, but its reworking of American crime-movie clichés for a Europe in which decades of immigration have literally changed the face of once-homogenous countries gives it a fresh gloss for U.S. moviegoers. Its Stockholm recalls the New York of some 100 years ago, when successive waves of non-WASP immigrants sparked furious debate about America's future. The plot's whiplash turns initially obscure the intensity of the film's class and race consciousness, but it quickly bubbles to the surface, a bracing reminder that Sweden's famously liberal immigration policies and social-service safety net haven't spared it the riots all too familiar across the continent.

Which is not to say that Easy Money: Hard to Kill is a treatise on contemporary European social policy and politics. It's a dark thriller in which characters are knocked around like pinballs by a combination of fate and bad judgment: Some guys have no luck at all, while others recklessly squander theirs. Its combination of grit and fatalism won't be to all tastes, but it's a refreshing alternative to the bigger-is-way-better swamp in which most Hollywood crime movies are mired.