FOREWORD NOTE: This is a review of the trilogy as a whole. That includes the three films: Easy Money (2010), Easy Money: Hard to Kill (2012), and Easy Money: Life Deluxe (2013). There will be some major spoilers in this review, so be warned.
In 2006, the first installment of the "Stockholm Noir Trilogy", written by the Swedish criminal lawyer Jens Lapidus, was published and soon became a massive commercial and critically acclaimed hit. After four years, Daniel Espinosa (Safe House, Child 44) adapted the novel to the silver screen under the same title (in Swedish: Snabba Cash) and the film won the audiences around the globe with its high production values, great characters, and robust performances by all the protagonists. The two sequels to Easy Money were shot by other directors and more specifically the second part, in Swedish Snabba Cash II (English title: Easy Money: Hard to Kill), by Babak Najafi while the final movie, Snabba cash - Livet deluxe (in English: Easy Money III: Life Deluxe) was both written and directed by Jens Jonsson. Not all films of this series are of equal cinematic worth, nevertheless, they are entertaining crime films with lots of action and memorable characters. The first part is definitely the best movie of the trilogy in every single aspect and it will certainly be deemed as a classic Nordic noir picture in the following years.
In the books, Jens Lapidus examines the lives of people who are entangled in the web of shady dealings in Stockholm's underbelly like drug smuggling, money laundering, racketeering, etc. The author succeeds in his attempt to describe as detailed as possible the low-life of a peculiar group of characters whose lives become intertwined as the plot unravels. Espinosa's film remains loyal to the book's story, and perhaps this is one of the main reasons that the film is so great, and the characters on-screen are three-dimensional and lively destined to win any audience. There are some slight changes made in the original's story, just enough to keep those who've already read the book interested and we ought always to keep in mind that a cinema adaptation of a novel very often dictates the necessity for major or minor script adjustments. But that doesn't matter. What is most important, is that Easy Money is one of the most iconic productions in Swedish crime filmmaking in the last decade.
The movie focuses on three main protagonists: the Latino drug dealer, Jorge, the rising star in money laundering business, JW, and the fierce, relentless high-ranking mafia enforcer, Mrado. The movie begins with Jorge breaking out from the prison where he was incarcerated for drug-related offenses and then we are introduced to the cruel world of Mrado, a Serbian martial arts champion who fought in the Yugoslavian civil war under the commands of the notorious Arkan, one of the most prominent war criminals in Balkans. In his first scene, Mrado brutally attacks the bouncers in a Stockholm nightclub who denied giving him the coat-check money. Mrado will be assigned with the task to find Jorge and to extract some vital information by any means necessary. The third main character is JW, a young student of Stockholm's School of Economics who moonlights as a taxi driver in order to make ends meet. JW also has some truly posh and snobbish group of upper-class friends, and throughout the movie, he is struggling to meet their expectations and finally become one of them. The lives of the above fictional individuals will mesh in a plausible manner and their relationships will change during the film's running time. Furthermore, each of those characters is striving for something more, for something better, an easier life which can only be obtained by getting, in any way conceivable, the titular easy money. But, that doesn't mean that they are reduced to greedy, selfish beings who care for nothing other than themselves. Mrado has to look out for his kid daughter, Lovisa, Jorge needs to protect his pregnant sister, while JW carries a heavy burden from his family's past as his sister, Camilla, has disappeared a few years ago and is still missing. That kind of obligation makes the characters more likable and easier for the audience to identify with. Joel Kinnaman (The Killing, House of Cards, The Informer) plays JW and does a terrific job in portraying the shifts in the character's emotional state. Cristian Varela (Arne Dahl, Narcos, Assassin's Creed) is playing Jorge and he is more than decent while Dragomir -"Gago"- Mrsic steals the thunder as Mrado, delivering the strongest performance in a role that is a perfect fit for him.
Easy Money is, above all, a crime film, but there are plenty of action sequences that are well-shot and effective as far as the plot evolution is concerned. The movie has a strong and well-knit plot which flows smoothly in a rather fast tempo reaching a shattering climax where the fate of the protagonists is revealed to the audience. By that time, the audience's desire to know the conclusion of this story has reached its peak. This is a picture that nobody can denounce as tedious and plain. So, if you decide to give it a chance, it will definitely not let you down.
The second film begins with JW and Mrado being incarcerated in a Swedish maximum security facility and Jorge continuing to struggle in order to score some facile cash. JW and Mrado are shown to have developed a rather strong bond as a result of the events narrated in the previous installment. In this film, they work together from the beginning until the end. Moreover in Easy Money: Hard to Kill, we meet a familiar character who now holds a more prominent role, that is Mahmoud, played wonderfully by the charismatic Lebanese thespian, Fares Fares (The Nile Hilton Incident, Chernobyl, Journal 64). Mahmoud is a low-life mafia's errand boy who finds himself in a nasty predicament. He owes money to the omnipotent Serbian mafia boss, Radovan (Dejan Cukic). As a result, he has to work now for Radovan who is not very keen on Muslims. When Radovan asks Mahmoud to find his old friend Jorge and kill him he will have to make a decision that will probably change his life forever. The plot thickens when Mrado and JW break out of the prison in order to commit an over-ambitious heist.
This second part of the saga lacks the spark of its prequel, nevertheless, it remains an enjoyable film that you will like if you loved the first movie and its superb set of characters. In this one, the audience has the opportunity to witness the continuation of each character's arc. Furthermore, the movie has its great moments and the best example is the final scene where Mrado, just before he dies, leaves a letter to his daughter to say how much he loved her and confesses his regret for his destructive way of life. It is an excellent end for a compelling character. But that's as far as this movie goes. It should be mentioned that this time the film's plot is radically different than that of Jens Lapidus' second installment in the "Stockholm Noir" book trilogy (English title: Never Fuck Up) to the point I was struggling -in vain- to locate some similarities between them.
The concluding part of the trilogy is Easy Money: Life Deluxe and was shot in 2013 by Jens Jonsson (Fragile, Brother of Mine) who also wrote the screenplay. In this film, the director focuses on the life of the notorious crime boss, Radovan, who faces many challenges as he has to deal with inner-mob troubles as well as the decisions made by his only daughter, Natalia. At the same time, we witness the preparations made by Jorge and his comrades to rob a heavy load of cash, a sting that will allow him to retire from the criminal lifestyle and start afresh. The connecting link between those two plotlines is a new character, Martin (Martin Wallström), an undercover cop who infiltrates the Serbian mafia to find evidence so he can bring them down once and for all. I think that this is the weakest part of the trilogy as both the plot ingenuity and the fascinating characterization are in decline. Easy Money: Life Deluxe is a much more action-oriented film than its predecessors and that proves to be a fatal flaw for its overall assessment by the audience.
Both the readers of the novels and the viewers of the previous films were used in higher quality standards and as a result, this final installment leaves us with a rather bitter taste. There are some silver linings though, and the best example is the performances by Dejan Cukic as Radovan and Malin Buska as Natalia. They are both utterly convincing as father and daughter and their interactions constitute the most interesting parts of this movie. That doesn't mean, of course, that you should skip it, especially if you have seen the two prequels. Taking everything into consideration the Easy Money saga is a thrilling ride, a wonderful example of the best that today's Swedish crime fiction has to offer and is recommendable to all the loyal fans of the genre around the world.