Easy Money II: Hard to Kill (Snabba cash II)

Sweden (2012) Dir. Babak Najafi

I wasn’t overly enamoured with the first film in this trilogy based on the novels by Jens Lapidus but I was enticed enough to check out the sequels. However, my memory of the first film is practically non-existent so I am essentially going into this one as fresh as I did its predecessor.

Once again three separate stories run concurrently here: first, Johan “JW” Westlund (Joel Kinnaman) is on an unsupervised day release from prison to finalise a deal with an investor to develop and sell computer software he developed while inside. However JW learns that his business partner Nippe Creutz (Joel Spira) has passed JW’s work as his won and stolen the deal instead.

Chilean criminal Jorge Salinas Barrio (Matias Varela) continues to suffer a run of bad luck when his partner Victor (Ricardo Marceliono Araneda Moreno) is killed in a car crash whilst trying to escape police capture, with the drugs they need to deliver to gangster Radovan Kranjicthose (Dejan Cukic) also going up in flames. With old friend Rolando (Luis Cifuentes), Jorge plans to con Radovan’s dealers with a false sample then rob them of the money.

Finally Arab Mahmoud (Fares Fares) is deep in debt to Radovan that he resorts to stealing money from his sister’s wedding gifts on her big day. When Jorge manages to flee with his money, Radovan offers Mahmoud a deal to clear his debt – kill Jorge.

Director Babak Najafi picks up helming duties from previous director Daniel Espinosa yet maintains the same style of visually overlapping the three threads at random to a point of occasional confusion. Thankfully this isn’t a regular occurrence but is annoying enough when a scene is hitting a peak story wise and suddenly an image from another story jumps into the frame.

As before, I haven’t read the original novels so I can’t say how much of the script comes from Jens Lapidus’s pen or from the screenplay by Maria Karlsson – if the first film is any indication it is likely to be the latter – but the way the three stories converge is handled quite deftly. There are no contrivances in how the characters are brought together and no two scenarios overlap at the same time, relying on clever plotting and circumstance instead.

The pervasive theme running through the three stories is the importance of family, which affects the three principals in oddly similar but fundamentally different ways. JW is rejected by his mother when he calls her, a fate Mahmoud suffers when his thieving is exposed and his father Bashir (Joseph Kasten), whom he idolised, runs him down for being a failure.

For Jorge, his mother dies but he is too busy up to no good to visit her in time. After fighting with his sister and her husband Jorge’s idea of what family means is distorted and he becomes bitter. Yet, when Jorge ends up with Nadja (Madeleine Martin) an immigrant working as a prostitute for Radovan, he tries to persuade her to go home to her family.

The most poignant story belongs to Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic), the hitman JW shot in the first film. Having buried the hatchet Mrado encourages JW to makes some money by intercepting Radovan’s accountant Misah Bladman (Peter Carlberg) who likes to gamble his boss’s money away. Having executed a daring escape Mrado is also keen to find his daughter, the one thing that keeps him going.

Running a good thirty minutes shorter than the first film, this is a boon in terms of pacing, meaning we hit the ground running with very little in the way of a recap outside of the odd flashback. Conversely it means that we are forced to try and remember things from before which, chances are, we have long forgotten, but there is an ironic positive to this – it means it is possible to watch this as a standalone film without knowing too much of the prior history.

This relative sprint through the three tales means that character development and backstory are sacrificed for the newer faces. One of the main victims of this is Nadja, who seems to have been created solely as a sympathetic foil amidst the mayhem of the infighting. We are given nothing of her background so we don’t know if she is Swedish (she speaks English most of the time) or how she came to work as prostitute for Radovan’s men.

Mahmoud was only a low tier supporting player last time so for him to be thrust into the spotlight is a huge leap. We get to learn more about his family ties and why his father is so upset at him but again, quite how Mahmoud ended up working for Radovan is something which deserves further explanation, and would make this tension between him and his father a more emotionally rich story to follow.

The truth is that all three plots are fertile enough to make for a film in their own right, the condensing of the material to share the 97 minute run time being rather evident. Ultimately the key points are put across and the characters sufficiently established well enough that we never lose our place in each thread and the basic narrative is never compromised.   

As before the violence is particularly gruesome but not as frequent, used sparingly to punctuate the gravity and danger of a situation and provide either a pay off or a jumping point for the next development. On that note, the ending is open and with a third film in existence, we can presume that it provides the conclusion to the stories begun here.

I’m afraid I don’t recall why the first film didn’t excite me much but I found this much maligned sequel much more enjoyable. Easy Money II: Hard to Kill is hardly perfect and needed to accommodate returning viewers more but as a crime thriller it adequately satiates the need.

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