A deep pool of underworld characters and a focus on multicultural tensions in Stockholm lend crime drama some added interest in “Easy Money: Hard to Kill” — or “Snabba Cash II,” as it’s more colorfully known in Sweden. (Apparently it’s the international marketing types who are the slaves to titles from the Van Damme-Seagal school.)
This is the second part of a trilogy adapted from the work of Swedish criminal defense lawyer-turned-novelist Jens Lapidus. The first installment was the 2012 Stateside release “Easy Money,” which gave US audiences a different look at Joel Kinnaman, then making an initial impression in AMC’s “The Killing,” and now playing tin man in “RoboCop.” Kinnaman starred as JW, a business student and wannabe high roller whose posing nabs him a dicey gig laundering money for coke dealers. It’s a path that fatefully links him with Jorge (Matias Varela), an escaped con diving right back into the drug trade, and Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic), a Serbian gangster whose pursuit of them both is complicated by unplanned fatherhood.
They’re all back for this sequel from new director Babak Najafi (HBO’s “Banshee”), although the spotlight shifts slightly from Kinnaman to Varela, and the themes deal less with class resentments than ethnic ones. The action opens with Jorge still angling for a life-changing score that bitter experience has taught him will never happen. JW and Mrado, meanwhile, have landed in prison together, where they’ve become confidence-swapping, chess-playing pals, never mind that their disastrous first encounter has left Mrado permanently confined to a wheelchair. (The Serb’s subsequent, gnarly escape from prison feels credible by comparison.) The story also tracks Mahmoud (Fares Fares), a hard-luck acquaintance from JW’s humble cabbie days, who’s being coerced by the mob to go after Jorge.
Once again, the most resonant drama here is all about conveying a self-loathing born of inescapable circumstances. We get a bit of this from newly paroled JW, whose hopes for something better are dashed by an unscrupulous business-school connection. But we get far more from Jorge, a shrewd sort who keeps falling into the same life traps despite himself and poignantly confesses his infinite regret in a voice-mail message he knows his late mother will never hear. Nadja (Madeleine Martin), a prostitute Jorge saves from the Serbs, lacks the same tortured self-awareness, but he expresses it for her, smirking at her naive dreams of building a beach house in Paris. And Mahmoud, morally lost, rationalizes everything by wondering aloud how immigrant families with heroic legacies could end up cleaning toilets in their adoptive Swedish homeland. In all their languages, “easy money” somehow doesn’t quite translate.