Movie Review: “Snabba Cash” – Gritty Swedish Thrills

Written by Matthew da Silva October 29, 2012

Hot off the heels of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy comes “Snabba Cash”, another Swedish crime novel adaptation that places us in the criminal underground of Sweden. Backed by Scorsese for its North American release, the film transports typical American mafia action overseas, substituting the grandeur of Scorsese’s breed of mafia films for a colder thriller that allows the intricate development of the characters to move the plot forward. With its North American release, will this finely tuned storyline hold up with a more trigger-happy viewership?

Just Trying To Pay Tuition

JW, a university business student in Stockholm, keeps up with his tuition fees and aristocratic, caviar-for-breakfast classmates by driving a cab at night and selling essays to students in need. When he is offered a chance to start drug running for his boss, he bites, hoping to get out of his state of perpetual debt and a better chance of climbing the social hierarchy in the cutthroat business world. Being an outsider for most of his life, his delicate skill of persuasion allows him to infiltrate both worlds, eventually placing him right in the middle of a dangerous feud between to rival drug syndicates.

Chilean Jorge, a fugitive who has just escaped from prison, is on the run from the Serbian mafia that heads the criminal underground in Sweden. Mrado, an enforcer for the mafia, is the man sent on the task of hunting down Jorge, a task that would have some dire consequences at the hands of drug kingpin Radovan if not carried out. When JW is asked to pick up Jorge for his sketchy boss, he enters a world that offers a narrow passage of escape, getting entangled in the ruthless quest for money spurned by drug, extortion, and murder.

Hej Stockholm

After spending nearly half a year in Stockholm for an exchange, the films depiction of “The Venice of the North” resonated with me, accurately portraying the characters as members of Swedish society that mesh and blend in seamlessly. Unlike the grandiose mafia characters in American mafia films, always depicted as above the common folk and, more importantly, the authorities, the characters in “Snabba Cash” are always aware that to succeed in the underworld you must blend in. I felt like I could have walked across these characters on the street; they were people before criminals, not criminals before people.

This common man trope was key in the intricate narrative of the film, placing the criminal activities of the characters behind their motives in their personal lives, doing the dirty work in hopes of eventually breaking out of the strongholds of the underground. JW, Jorge, and even enforcer Mrado are all itching to get out of the cutthroat underground, planning one last run for the money to support their means until they can escape. By the end, they recognize the immense difficulty in this task, a degree of impossibility that is a result of the no rules, no holds barred nature of the pursuit for dirty cash.

Substitute Real Life

While the deep character analysis was tightknit and intriguing, it dragged along at times, placing focus on parts of the characters lives that could have been curtailed. Regardless, these moments are few, and the action quickly picks up to remind everyone that the criminal underground in no way resembles a tea party. While “Snabba Cash” may not be for every mafia film lover, it holds as a solid effort from director Daniel Espinosa, a representation of the criminal underground that is more accurate than the high action efforts from Hollywood.

Rating: 7/10

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