Blu-ray Review: Easy Money - Hard to Kill (2012)

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AKA: Easy Money II
Foreign Title: Snabba Cash II 

“What you want can’t be bought. Class is something you’re born with,” a character tells JW (Joel Kinnaman) in this unrelentingly visceral sequel to the Swedish blockbuster crime saga Easy Money, based on the novel of the same name in the Stockholm Noir trilogy by author Jens Lapidus.

Zeroing in on JW’s lifelong desire to belong among the rich and powerful which propelled Kinnaman’s brainy economics student to move from cabbie to coke dealer in his award-winning transformative performance throughout helmer Daniel Espinosa's predecessor, it's this observation that defines JW right to the core.

Easy Money: Hard to Kill takes us even deeper into the personal lives of those who populate the Noir world of contemporary Sweden first introduced in 2010.

Hard to Kill (which is known as Snabba Cash II overseas) builds its multifaceted storyline from the first two books in Lapidus’s triology which has garnered rave reviews from and/or comparisons to the likes of James Ellroy and Dennis Lehane.

Whereas the first film sectioned its characters into two to three “groups” overall (not counting minor subplots and non-criminal relationships), the highly complicated sequel is far more ambitious. Spreading out the narratives and expanding on characterizations, it helps immensely to have watched the first film recently before you jump back into the fray.

Picking up where we left off, we catch up with the characters three years after JW’s fateful double-cross found him double-crossed as well. Using the gun that made its way into his hand to fire a bullet into Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic) after Mrado went back on his word that nobody would get hurt, the previously nonviolent JW (aka the “Mr. Brains” behind the operation) is forever altered by the decision.

Having formed a peaceful alliance with Mrado after the now wheelchair bound man was transferred to JW’s prison, the two men plan for the future together behind bars. Hinging all their hopes for a proseperous future on a piece of financial software that the ever clever, aspiring social climber JW has designed on the inside while using what little connections he has left on the outside, JW eagerly awaits a fateful business meeting to pitch his brain-child to the money men.

When he’s predictably double-crossed at the same time as two of his former partners in crime likewise find themselves as screwed as the second novel’s Swedish title Aldrig Fucka Upp (aka “Never Fuck Up”) implies, events are set in motion for all three of the men's separate storylines to eventually intersect in an unpredictable way.

While narratively speaking, the intertextuality of the three threads that are destined to be woven together recalls other crime sagas of the past twenty-five years from Pulp Fiction to City of God to The Departed, there’s also a Paul Thomas Anderson Magnolia inspired thematic element to JW’s sobering realization that he may be done with the past but it’s certainly not done with him.

Yet that’s not to say that just because it harks to films of the past, we’re left with something unoriginal or clich├ęd. Quite the contrary, this Swedish trilogy is one of the strongest crime sagas not named The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to hit the film scene since the era of Infernal Affairs (which became The Departed) and City of God.

Doomed to repeat the past in the present but hopefully with more hard-earned knowledge that will help them in the future, JW falls back on his criminal background. Setting up a one-shot-only score with Mrado, much like the final meet in the previous picture, the resulting event has a domino effect that will impact everyone else one way or another before the final credits roll.

Espinosa’s original film was muted in its color palette, opting for a dark docudramatic feel that prevailed everywhere expect in the golden tinged world of the upper class so that we could truly feel JW’s desire to belong in that perceived picture perfect existence of sunny afternoons, candlelit dinners and romantic sunrises by seeing it through his eyes. Hard to Kill, on the other hand, finds beauty in the most unexpected places.

A undeniably gritty work that’s also unspeakably beautiful, Kill transcends its tough subject matter and the violent confrontations that pervade as various characters try to double-deal, rob, conspire and pull something over on sworn enemies or lifelong friends depending on the day.

An endless merry-go-round of blood, bullets and bags of money changing hands, director Babak Najafi – using a majority of the same crew that worked on the first installment – weaves a hypnotic web that heightens the textures, colors and emotions of any given scene to thrilling effect, which you can especially appreciate in Cinedigm’s razor-sharp Blu-ray transfer.

From bubbles blowing in the wind at a wedding to a dizzyingly surreal use of match cuts to synchronize the action between multiple characters as a bottle of champagne is used as a weapon in one scene and we move right to blood spilling into a sink in an altogether different one, there’s an impressive sense of visceral poetry that pulsates from the first frame to the very last.

Emphasizing who these characters are as people more than ever before – while we’d spent a large amount of time with JW and Mrado in the first film, Hard to Kill delves much deeper into the lives of both Mahmoud (Fares Fares) and Jorge (Matias Varela) this time around.

Echoing Godfather Part II’s exploration of the way familial roots can make a person, Hard to Kill introduces us to new back-stories that not only help fill in the biographical blanks on the main ensemble but (much like the first film) also alludes to the overall themes of the trilogy to illustrate the new challenges faced by the burgeoning cultural and socioeconomic melting pot that Stockholm has become.

And undoubtedly, even though it’s touched upon in Kill, the depth of this work promises greater things to come as all of these plots and themes will assuredly intersect with Ciendigm’s upcoming Blu-ray, DVD and Digital release of the final installment of social climber JW’s Noir trilogy with Easy Money: Life Deluxe.   

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