The distinction between bankers and gangsters gets hazy in the hard-boiled Swedish thriller "Easy Money." The multilayered, multicultural crime yarn charts the operations of South American drug runners, Serbian mob enforcers and a failing bank that needs a big cash infusion and isn't choosy about where it comes from.
At the intersection of these forces is JW (Joel Kinnaman of AMC's "The Killing"), a hustling business student and social climber. He has an aristocrat's bearing -- tall, handsome and composed -- and passes himself off as the son of diplomats while trolling for debutantes at upper-class parties. So suave is his deception that the loveliest girl in Stockholm's upper crust loves him madly. But the would-be Gatsby's day-to-day life is markedly less glamorous. He drives a mob-owned taxi and ghostwrites his fellow students' papers for a fee, always worried that his well-born school chums will discover his deception.
Director Daniel Espinosa triangulates JW's hustle with two others working schemes of their own. Jorge (Matias Varela) is a young drug middleman trying to arrange a big delivery whose payoff will make his family independently wealthy. Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic) is a hard-as-nails triggerman for the Serbian cartel who suddenly finds himself caring for his seldom seen little daughter. He, too, is looking for a strike-it-rich exit strategy.
Playing each side against the other, JW brokers a deal that will put the cash-strapped bank and the criminals in his debt. His financial acumen earns him the nickname "Mr. Brains" from his cohorts, but he's in way over his well-coiffed head. When he sets up a risky double cross, you know things won't end well.
Espinosa conducts the swirling tale with crisp efficiency and a cold, cynical conviction that things can always go badly and get shockingly worse. Every major character is battered by the dehumanizing power of money and blind to the real wealth waiting for each of them back home.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186