Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Babak Najafi's EASY MONEY: HARD TO KILL proves that rare sequel to outshine its originator

Dark, action-packed, fast-paced and all too believable, EASY MONEY: HARD TO KILL is better than the original -- from which, if you recall my coverage of that earlier and overpraised twaddle, you might not expect much. Yet this sequel indeed delivers the goods you'll want from a smart, tight crime thriller -- Scandinavian variety. Interestingly enough, the sequel simply carries right on from the point at which the former film ended: with much of the cast dead, dying or injured and our near-hero caught by the authorities.

The difference, it seems, lies in the choice of director and co-writer, Babak Najafi, who outshines the filmmaker of the original (Daniél Espinosa) by leaps and bounds, sticking to immediate action and character over tired (and, as it turns out, unnecessary) history, love and class clichés, and making that fast action coincide with character. The hints Najafi gives us of background and history proves better than the lengthy and obvious scenes used by Espinosa -- and thankfully there is nothing here nearly as silly as the chase-by-city-bus scene, followed by the even worse "Oh, look, I've just conveniently found a gun here in the bushes!" moment. My spouse, who watched the movie with me and had not seen the original, found it completely understandable and utterly riveting. I felt the same, while also realizing how well Part Two builds from Part One. (Part Three, with yet a new director/co-writer on board, has apparently already been released in Scandinavia and The Netherlands, so we'll eventually see how this crime tale trio turns out.)

Picking up from the end of Part One, EM: H2K finds JW (the lean and lovely Joel Kinnaman, above, who is just debuting today as the new Robocop) in prison for his offenses but getting a day out of the can for good behavior. A smartypants computer maven, he's been working on new software that will be a real boon to the banking industry.

Not only is there little honor among thieves of the hardened criminal variety, JW's wealthy partner is bereft of same, too, and soon our poor, fish-out-of-water boy is once more involved in something illegal via one of the men he earlier helped put in prison (not to mention in a wheelchair), and so JW is on the run again.

Both parts of Easy Money have involved a slew of characters, with three especially important: our foolish but relatively decent JW; the petty criminal, Jorge (Matias Varela, above); and a higher-up-in-the-criminal food-chain, Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic, below).

This time another character, Mahmoud (played by Fares Fares, below and on the receiving end of that gun), up to his ears in criminal debt, takes on more importance. All four men are striving to find a place for themselves and/or provide for their families: JW tries to rise above his lower-class roots, while the other three are immigrants from various places. None has managed to join the "mainstream," and while the movie makes clear Scandinavia's forward-looking stance on immigration, it also shows how difficult it can be for immigrants, once resident in their new country, to be able to truly "join" it. Consequently, being all-too human, our fellows end up thrashing about in crime and betrayal, while trying to do the right thing -- occasionally, at least.

Women are kept to a minimum in this chapter of the trilogy, and the movie is better for it. The one important female character is another immigrant, a young woman (an excellent Madeleine Martin, below, left) bound by sex trafficking and her nasty captors, who makes a move for freedom at precisely the time when one of our men is about to be eliminated. While this is indeed coincidental, the scene is handled so well that you'll barely have time to draw a breath.

In fact, timing, pacing, and characters who are both interesting and believable, along with all the rest that go into making a good crime thriller, are here and used to their utmost, without rubbing anything in. Mr. Najafi knows his stuff, and I hope we'll see more from him, even if he isn't directing the third installment.

Meanwhile, this one -- running 99 minutes and coming to us via the increasingly interesting and necessary distributor Cinedigm, which has made a lot of good choices of late -- opens Friday, February 14, in New York City at the Cinema Village. Elsewhere theatrically? No idea. But you can, simultaneous with its theatrical release, view it via iTunes and many local VOD platforms.

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