Easy Money and The Imposter

A Swedish crime thriller and a dark documentary about a human chameleon

Easy Money is a Swedish thriller thick with drug gangs, double crosses, and desperate men grappling for a way out through the bullet storms that beset them all around. Classic crime stuff, but in this case distinguished by the emotional connections among the characters and a flickering light of moral consciousness. The movie is a little long, and a little confusing at first (there’s quite a bit of subtitled Serbian and Spanish dialogue in addition to Swedish); but it’s tough and tightly wound, and for the most part gripping.

On its Scandinavian release two years ago, the picture made a star out of Swedish-American actor Joel Kinnaman, and now we see why. (Kinnaman has since featured in the AMC TV series The Killing, and he’s the lead in next year’s Robocop remake.) He plays JW, a provincial student at the Stockholm School of Economics. JW longs to become a part of the upscale yuppie culture of the capital city, and he poses as a young man with money. In reality, though, he lives in cramped student housing and drives a taxi at night.

JW’s boss at the taxi company, Abdulkarim (Mahmut Suvakci), is an aspiring cocaine mogul on the side, and he lures JW into the business as a low-level street dealer. JW sees this as a way to make the titular easy money. Naturally, he’s very wrong.

A man of small-town moral rectitude (for a while), JW is alarmed when he sees a Chilean ex-con named Jorge (memorably charismatic Matias Padin Varela) being beaten by two thugs; he rescues this battered character and takes him home to his student digs to recuperate. Jorge is bent on revenge against the mobsters who put him in jail, chiefly Serbian drug-gang kingpin Radovan (Dejan Cukic). Also irritated by Radovan is one of his vicious enforcers, Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic—an actual one-time gangster, and most convincing). Mrado wants to get out from under Radovan’s unpleasant control and return to his hometown of Belgrade; but he’s just been saddled with custody of an eight-year-old daughter he had with a woman who’s now a drug addict, and the little girl’s need for attention is interfering with his heavy schedule of beatings and killings and random depredations.

Looking to expand out of the taxi business, Abdulkarim enlists JW’s financial smarts as a money launderer, with promises of a big payday from an upcoming drug deal. JW is very good at this. By now, he has met a wealthy girl named Sophie (classically blond Lisa Henni) at a weekend yuppie gathering at a vast estate. She falls in love with him (awfully quickly, I thought), but JW—paralyzed by warring feelings of shame and avarice, is standoffish. Things get even more complicated, and, as the rival gangs open fire, much worse.

Kinnaman, with his quiet intensity and sleek good looks, is a counterweight for the movie’s free-floating violence, and he keeps it from spinning off into simple crime-flick furor. He’s assisted in this by the subtly magnetic Varela, whose Jorge is a dangerous man with a vestige of tender feelings left over from another, gentler life. Together, these two actors lift the story into emotional areas beyond the usual concerns of genre. Director Daniel Espinosa (who has since overseen the Denzel Washington thriller Safe House), has a skilled facility for action and a gratifying awareness of its limits—of the need for a moral dimension amid the requisite frenzy. Easy Money is about to be remade in English, with Zack Efron taking over Kinnamon’s role. If it need be said, you might want to see this one first.       

The Imposter

The story of Frédéric Bourdin, the human chameleon, has been told before, both here and abroad. In 1997, Bourdin, a 23-year-old French conman, appeared in Spain claiming to be a missing 16-year-old Texas boy, Nicholas Barclay, who had disappeared in San Antonio three years earlier. Although he bore no resemblance to Barclay (and had a pronounced French accent), upon being brought to the U.S. he was happily welcomed into the dysfunctional Barclay family as its vanished son, returned at last.

This strange tale—which grows even stranger on close examination—was recounted at length in a 2008 New Yorker article by David Grann. Now, in The Imposter, documentary filmmaker Bart Layton has put faces to it: We see the dark, brown-eyed, disarmingly soft-spoken Bourdin, and, in childhood video footage, the blond, blue-eyed (and still-missing) Nicholas Barclay. We also meet the monumentally gullible Barclay clan, along with ancillary consular officials, FBI agents, and private investigators.

The movie owes much to the documentary techniques of Errol Morris, particularly his 1988 The Thin Blue Line. Layton’s film is likewise a procession of face-on interviews intermingled with mute “recreations” at various narrative points. The director pushes this latter strategy a bit too far, I think: at several points we see Bourdin speaking, and then, in mid-sentence, we cut to the actor playing him in one of the imagined scenes lip-synching the rest of his words. This is distracting, but not ruinous—the picture still exerts a dark fascination.

Bourdin was an unwanted child—the son of a teenage French mother and an unknown Algerian immigrant—who was dumped into his first youth shelter at the age of 12. He became adept at escaping these facilities, one after another, and traveled all around Europe fabricating false identities as an abused or abandoned kid, searching, he said, for a place he could call home. “As long as I can remember,” he says in the film, “I wanted to be someone else.” He worked these impersonations in more than a dozen countries, picking up several languages along the way and accumulating a sizable Interpol file as well.

It was the threat of being turned over to Interpol by a suspicious judge while living in a shelter in Linares, Spain, that prompted his most brazen con. Asking to use the phone in a shelter office, Bourdin called a national missing-children center in the U.S. Posing as a shelter official, he said a frightened American boy had turned up who wouldn’t disclose his name. Providing details of his own appearance, he asked the center if there were any missing children matching that description. There was, sort of—well, maybe: Nicholas Barclay.

Here, Layton introduces us to Nicholas’ family members, most importantly his mother, Beverly, a divorced drug addict employed at a local Dunkin’ Donuts, and his older sister, Carey. (There was also a shadowy older brother, Jason, who died of a cocaine overdose—possibly a suicide—after Bourdin’s arrival.) It was Carey who flew to Spain to bring back her “brother.” Thanks to a video cam on the scene, we see them arriving in San Antonio, Bourdin looking bizarre with his face obscured by a hoodie and sunglasses, and barely speaking. He soon claims to have been abducted by a military sex-slave organization that raped him repeatedly and subjected him to “experiments,” one of which changed the color of his eyes.

Beverly and Carey accepted Bourdin warmly and without reservation—this, they insisted, was their missing Nicholas. A local FBI agent named Nancy Fisher interviewed the boy and wasn’t so sure. A child psychiatrist decided there was no way this kid with the heavy accent could have been raised in an American household. And private investigator Charlie Parker—hired to arrange an interview with “Nicholas” for the tabloid TV show Hard Copy—stuck around to pursue his own strong doubts about this strange person’s identity. (Parker felt “Nicholas” might be a foreign spy.)

But Beverly and Carey stuck stubbornly to their fantasy, if that’s what it was. As always before, though, Bourdin’s imposture slowly began to unravel. But not before he’d made a disturbing discovery—in the film he says he learned what really happened to the long-gone Nicholas Barclay. Layton pursues this assertion, but while the details are provocative, they lead to no solid conclusion. In the end, we’re left with the conundrum of why a family would accept a complete stranger as one of its members. Is there a sinister explanation, or a more human one related to grief and longing? At the end, Carey simply says, “How could I be so fucking stupid?” 

Kurt Loder is a writer living in New York. His third book, a collection of film reviews called The Good, the Bad and the Godawful, is now available. Follow him on Twitter at kurt_loder.

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  • ||

    It was the threat of being turned over to Interpol by a suspicious judge while living in a shelter in Linares, Spain

    Yeah, I would totally live in Linares, too.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I have a bullfighting poster in my house that says, "Toros en Linares." It's from the fight that killed Manolete.

  • ||

    You're missing Warty's point.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I don't have that poster in my house.

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    Breast implants made her ten times hotter.

  • ||

    How are you such an idiot? You are stupider than Tulpa and Tony combined. I hope you die today. God, you're stupid.

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    To borrow a line from the gay rights movement (this is a libertarian site, after all): "We can't choose what we're attracted to any more than we can choose what race we are."

    Dammit, I'm a pro-silicone American, and I will not let bigots like you force me back into the closet!

  • ||

    You are the reason she ruined perfection. YOU. You couldn't be content with your Kagney Lynn Carters and your Tera Patricks, no, you had to subsume into your horrible little silicone club the most perfect woman ever to be made airtight on camera. FUCK. YOU.

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    Don't forget Aletta Ocean, we got to her too.

    Cheer up. You still have Amy Reid and Anissa Kate; even I would not recommend they mess with what they have.

  • ||

    You keep your filthy paws off Tori Black.

  • ||

    For the umpteenth time, I Google and the Wikipedia reads: "_____ is a(n) ______ pornographic actress." It is comforting to know some things never change, the birth years just keep getting younger.

  • BakedPenguin||

    There was a thread yesterday showing a picture of Tyra Banks. I couldn't remember her name exactly, so I just called her "the model" in my post.

    I thought she was called "Kyra Banks", so I Googled images to confirm that. Long story short, there is a 'model' going by the name of Kyra Banks.

  • ||

    There's also a Tyra Banxxx.

  • ||

    ever to be made airtight on camera.

    chianize fingerpuzle

  • ||

    What the fuck is wrong with you?!?

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    Are you the guy who got mad at me because I don't think Emma Stone is that hot?

    Wow, we just can't see eye to eye on these important issues.

    Can we at least agree that Christina Hendricks has great tits?

  • ||

    You just made an enemy for life.

  • ||

    I don't think Emma Stone is that hot?

    Yeah eyes are too far apart and she is all skin and bone...but I like the freckles.

  • Tagalog||

    Not much to report on in the movie biz this week, I see.

  • NotSure||

    This Swedish movie and the Dragon tattoo movies, one would think that Sweden is a crime ridden gangster land. If I had to guess, countries with real crime problems like Mexico probably do not have movies that glorify the gangster life like countries like America or Sweden do.

  • ||

    Amores Perros was really good, and it was more or less about crime.

  • John||

    Some day when the Mexican drug gangs reign of terror ends, Mexicans will start making their own Godfather and Goodfellas.

  • sarcasmic||

    For that to happen drugs will have to be made legal, and that isn't going to happen.

    Ever.

  • John||

    Everything subsides. Some day people will invent new better drugs and people won't want pot or coke. Or they will develop a way to make the stuff at home so you don't have to import it from Columbia and so forth.

  • sarcasmic||

    Drugs will never be legalized because they are an excuse to abuse power.

    Until there is some worldwide revolution and we start again from scratch, drugs will remain illegal.

  • John||

    When the governments go bankrupt and can no longer afford to enforce any of their laws, things will change.

  • sarcasmic||

    As long as there is wealth to be plundered, governments don't go bankrupt. Not on the national level anyway.
    And they rarely if ever admit to being wrong. You know, like wrong about criminalizing drugs for so many decades. Not gonna happen.

  • Pro Libertate||

    It all comes from the District of Columbia? I knew it!

  • John||

    Have you ever been to Anacostia? If you had, it would come as no surprise.

  • Pro Libertate||

    If it turned out that they were praying to Satan, sacrificing humans on the Mall, I would not be surprised.

  • John||

    They do that at Eastern Market.

  • mr simple||

    Clearly they just need their own version of Hollywood to point out the problems in their society in order to get them fixed.

    /clooney

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    If I had to guess, countries with real crime problems like Mexico probably do not have movies that glorify the gangster life like countries like America or Sweden do.

    You'd be wrong.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    I've always been told that Sweden has a rather large and influential mafia, with a bunch of Hell's Angels types in it.

  • ||

    satanic metal heads

  • ||

    This is the best Swedish film I've ever seen.

    The director went on to do an apparently bad job with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, should've stuck with improvisational comedies.

  • sarcasmic||

    I haven't seen many Swedish films, but this one was pretty good. A real thought provoker.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0338309/

  • ||

    The only Swedish movie I've seen that I can recall was Let The Right One In, which was excellent. As a vampire movie, it was a wonderful rebuttal to the Twilight crap, which was all the rage at the time.

    (The US remake two years later was similarly well done.)

  • John||

    Let the Right One is kicked ass. That is a great movie.

  • ||

    That is a great movie.

    Did you see the US remake, Let Me In? Sure, it was completely unnecessary - especially since it came out only two years after the original - but it stayed very faithful to the original, and they didn't try to dress it up with all kinds of big names or special effects. The girl from Kick Ass played the lead.

  • John||

    I didn't. I figured Hollywood would screw it up. I will have to watch it sometime.

  • ||

    Oh noes, Jan Guillou. That communist cunt used to spy for the KGB.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Great Swedish films without Bergman? Where's Ted S.? He'll probably back me up on this.

  • Nike air max womens||

    Radovan’s unpleasant control and return to his hometown of Belgrade; but he’s just been saddled with custody of an eight-year-old daughter he had with a woman who’s now a drug addict, and the little girl’s need for attention is interfering with his heavy schedule of beatings and killings and random depredations.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Wait, Easy Money? Where's Rodney?

  • ||

    "Why don't you put your heads together and make an ass out of yourselves?"

  • Pro Libertate||

    Seriously, no mention of the film? He truly cannot get no respect.

  • ||

    Rodney used that phrase for a reason. God damn, he was a funny guy.

  • Pro Libertate||

    We should've cyborged him before he died.

  • ||

    Cyborging comedians good; cyborging small breasts bad.

    You guys have fucked up prioritities.

  • ||

    Not Swedish (Norwegian) but Headhunters is the best movie I've seen this year.

  • BakedPenguin||

    The original Insomnia was pretty good.

  • BakedPenguin||

    hier.

  • Kuze||

    Bourdin = Armin Tamzarian

  • BakedPenguin||

    JW has had a much more interesting life than he's let on.

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