Judge Gordon Sullivan finds money difficult.
There just may be no going back.
Prediction is a mug's game: though studios have massive publicity machines and all kinds of test audiences, success is never guaranteed. If that's true of movies, it goes double for the fortunes of individual stars. The history of cinema is littered with the stories of stars who fell from grace, and there are just as many cases of actors who had tiny parts in smaller productions who went on to bigger and better things. Sometimes you know something is up, and that's the case with Easy Money, the 2012 Swedish thriller that was most American's first introduction to Joel Kinneman. Since then, Kinneman has been seen in AMC's The Killing and in the lead of the Robocop remake. Judging by Easy Money: Hard to Kill, Kinneman isn't going to turn his back on his roots, even if this sequel isn't quite up to par with the original.
In Easy Money, JW (Joel Kinneman) played a working-class kid with aspirations to wealth who took the road to crime to get there. Easy Money: Hard to Kill jumps forward a few years, and now JW has been in prison for his crimes, but wants to put his life back together. Naturally, it's not that easy, and his old life intrudes, forcing JW back into the criminal underworld.
Easy Money worked largely because it was willing to push against the boundaries of the "rise to power" genre of criminal thrillers. By weaving in contemporary fears about class and criminality, the film stood out from the pack of so-so crime thrillers that try to show us yet another guy trying to make it big in the drug trade. Throw in some well-executed violence, and the result is a crime thriller that showcases Kinneman's strengths.
At first glance, this seems to betray the spirit of the first film, offering yet another take on the "Every time I try to get away, they pull me back in" genre of crime pics. However, Easy Money: Hard to Kill takes things just a little bit further than other films. It doesn't try to glamorize the return to criminality, nor to soften the blows that JW and his fellow criminals encounter because of their lifestyle.
Easy Money: Hard to Kill reveals itself to be part of a trilogy. Though Easy Money was initially a standalone film, this is the first of two sequels. That means this film has to bring the characters to rock bottom so that they are in place for the narrative of the final installment of the trilogy.
Kinneman, and his fellow actors, are up to the task of portraying a group of criminals nearing the end of their respective ropes. Dragomir Mrsic plays a wheelchair-bound hitman who wants to find his daughter. Every one of the characters has a similar sob story or checkered past and he actors do a fine job of selling both their status as criminals and their unsatisfying lives as well.
Easy Money: Hard to Kill (Blu-ray) looks a slight step up from the previous film. The 2.40:1/1080p AVC-encoded image is generally sharp, with the film's slightly desaturated color scheme looking fine throughout. Black levels stay pretty deep and consistent throughout as well. The DTS-HD 5.1 track is even more impressive, offering strong directionality during action sequences and clear dialogue from the front.
The set's lone extra is the film's trailer.
The film takes a slight step backward in terms of the action elements. All the expected gunplay is there, as are the requisite chase scenes, but this time around they don't feel as fresh or slickly executed. It's not terrible or incompetent, but it's also not quite up to the standards of the previous film.
Those looking for lighter, more conventional crime thrillers might get brought down by the somewhat bleak tone of Easy Money: Hard to Kill. The film has to take its characters all the way down into desperation to set up the sequel, so those looking for some light at the end of the tunnel won't find it in this film (and the sequel doesn't have a release date as yet). So viewers looking for something a bit more conventional, just a bit of violence, car chases, and crime, will probably want to look elsewhere.
Easy Money: Hard to Kill isn't quite up to the standards set by its predecessor, but still offers a refreshingly bleak spin on the crime film. Throw in a technically solid Blu-ray, at and you've got a flick that's worth a rental for fans of the first film or star Joel Kinneman.
Not perfect, but not guilty.
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