Kinnaman keeps busy; Demme profiles Neil Young

Joel Kinnaman in "Easy Money," in which he plays a man wanting to work his way into the upper class who turns to money laundering.
Joel Kinnaman in "Easy Money," in which he plays a man wanting to work his way into the upper class who turns to money laundering.
Posted: July 23, 2012

If Joel Kinnaman's acting career suddenly goes south (not likely), maybe he can try his hand at criticism.

Here's his nutshell on Easy Money — the Swedish crime pic, original title Snabba Cash — in which he stars as a style-obsessed "economics whiz kid" trying to work his way into the superrich, jet-setting Stockholm crowd:

"The film operates in a universe that's sort of a crossbreeding between The Great Gatsby and Goodfellas — but in a Swedish context," Kinnaman says.

"It's just very interesting to play a character that is a talented Mr. Ripley-type, wanting to work his way into the upper class, to be one of them, but can't finance his lifestyle. And then he has connections with these criminals, and … he finds a way to come up with these financial strategies to launder his money.

“Of course, things go downhill from there."

Easy Money, which opens Friday at the Ritz Bourse, has the sleek cool of a Michael Mann pic, the punch and verve of a Guy Ritchie gangster enterprise, and then something cold, crackling and, well, Nordic. It was released in Sweden way back in 2010 (dislodging Avatar from its No. 1 berth), and when it hit the festival markets in Berlin and Cannes, Hollywood took note. Kinnaman, a Swede (his father is American; he grew up in Stockholm), got a manager and an agent in L.A., and Easy Money's director, Daniel Espinosa, also a Swede, (his father is Chilean), was hired to steer Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds through their slam-bang espionage thriller, Safe House. (Kinnaman has a small but pivotal role in the spring hit, too.)

And then the gangly actor landed the role of Holder, the strung-out Seattle cop partnered with another messed-up homicide detective, played by Mireille Enos, in AMC's hit mystery series, The Killing. Its two seasons over, Kinnaman, 32, now lives in Los Angeles.

"A lot of people hate on L.A.," he says, on the speaker phone in his car, "but I think it's quite amazing. When you come from Sweden, you do very much appreciate the warm weather. We get two months of that a year, and then we have 10 months of cold and misery."

Kinnaman is keen to talk up Easy Money — not just because it was made by this close-knit "little community" of filmmakers and friends in Stockholm, but because for people who know him only as Detective Holder, it provides evidence that he can really act.

"For the people that have seen any of my work in the States, they have probably seen it in The Killing," he explains. "And this is a character that is just so completely different from that. Completely different body language. There's no similarities between them.

“And that's always fun. You want to show your diversity — that's one of the challenges as an actor that you want to rise up to."

Kinnaman is preparing for his next challenge now. "I'm going between boxing and martial arts training, and now I'm going out to the desert to shoot guns," he reports.

The reason? He's the next RoboCop.

"We start in September," he says. Kinnaman is the police officer-turned-cyborg originally played by Peter Weller in Paul Vorhoeven's 1987 dystopian sci-fi hit. The new RoboCop, with Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Abbie Cornish, and Hugh Laurie, has been slated for a summer 2013 release. Kinnaman's Alex Murphy/RoboCop will be wracked with conflict, manipulated by corporate powers and struggling with half-human, half-machine identity issues.

"I think I saw [the original] about 20 times before I was cast, and now I've seen it a couple of times more," he says. "So yeah, I would say I'm a big fan. I like all of Verhoeven's movies — Starship Troopers, I think that's a fantastic movie, a little bit misunderstood and underappreciated. It's smart. And RoboCop, too."

Demme: forever Young. Forgive Jonathan Demme for his unfamiliarity with Canada. It wasn't until he had landed in Toronto a few days before shooting Neil Young's extraordinary "Le Noise Tour" homecoming at Massey Hall last year that the filmmaker realized Toronto is situated in the province of Ontario.

"You mean, like ‘There is a town in north Ontario,'?" he remembers thinking, quoting Young's classic, "Helpless," as the proverbial lightbulb clicked on over his director's cap.

"I was like, ‘Oh, you mean the same part of Canada where the town in north Ontario is? The town where Neil grew up?'?"

And so, in Neil Young Journeys — the third of Demme's concert films starring the 66-year-old music legend — he gets his subject behind the wheel of a 1956 Crown Victoria and follows him back to little Omemee, where Young grew up. In between the solo electric versions of "Peaceful Valley Boulevard" and "After the Gold Rush" and "Down by the River" and "My, My, Hey, Hey (Out of the Blue)," Demme follows Young as he drops in on old haunts, or looks for haunts no longer there.

Although Neil Young Journeys' playlist features as many older songs as new, Demme was determined "not to let this feel for a second like a nostalgia trip or an oldies show. I want Neil to be perceived as an up-to-the-minute, cutting-edge experimental artist who happens to pull extraordinary compositions he's written over the years out and then fiercely reinterpret them."

Demme — and Young — succeed in doing just that. The spare, reverberating version of "Ohio," Young's raging response to the 1970 Kent State shootings of students protesting the Vietnam War, sounds every bit of this moment, of right now.

But because the song references an event more than 40 years gone, Demme wanted to make it absolutely clear what was happening. He intercuts archival news footage and images of the fallen students with Young's performance.

"You see and hear the passion with which Neil is singing that song, and you listen to the words, and if you don't know the story of Kent State, you don't know what he's really talking about. Why is he so upset?" Demme says.

"My kids, who are grown now, have friends who look like these four young Americans [who died]. … And just a few months ago, we saw cops walking up to protesting students at UC Davis and spraying them in the face with pepper spray. So I feel like Neil's ‘Ohio' becomes the most contemporary, socially engaged song that's out there today. It's a cautionary song and it's a wake-up call. It's be careful on a million levels."

Contact Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.

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