The Swedish thriller Easy Money barely made a ripple at the U.S. box office. It still may be remembered as one of the earliest, juiciest roles for rising star Joel Kinnaman as well as a rare critique of European class stagnation.
Let’s start with Kinnaman, set for an official introduction to movie-going audiences next year as the star of the much-delayed RoboCop remake. His turn in AMC’s The Killing, alas, didn’t draw many eyeballs.
In the new-to-DVD Easy Money, Kinnaman plays J.W., an ambitious college student who rubs elbows with the elite despite living an impoverished lifestyle.
When J.W. stumbles onto a way to make a small fortune via a cocaine-backed business deal he lunges at the chance. After all, he’ll soon be wealthy enough to truly belong to the circles he now cagily inhabits, and he might even win the affections of the lovely Sophie (Lisa Henni).
Money alone won’t buy him an invitation to the Euro High Life, something JW learns the oh, so hard way. Two other central characters in the film more readily embrace a life of crime, and the results are far from pretty.
Late film critic Roger Ebert, hardly a passionate defender of U.S.-style one percenters, noted in his review that the film offers a sly commentary on how Sweden isn’t a haven for ladder climbing citizens.
Always present, if not precisely stated, is that for all three of these outsiders, crime is the only avenue they can imagine to escape from their situation and become independent. The film makes it clear that Sweden is not quite the egalitarian state we imagine, but a nation where money, family and class still function as they do anywhere else.
Kinnaman is terrific as J.W., a shrewd soul whose business savvy eclipses his ability to judge his new friends. We’ll be seeing plenty more of him in and out of that iconic RoboCop suit, but conservative audiences may equally appreciate both the cautionary tales embedded in Easy Money and its unspoken nod to the American dream.