A crime drama with a protagonist named Elvis Martini. Let’s read on….

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Despite an unfortunately named protagonist, Cash Only delivers on several levels. Elvis is an unlikable protagonist, but he is realistic. He’s an Albanian-American who is down on his luck. After trying to scam an insurance company by burning down his home and accidentally killing his wife, we find him deep in debt two years later.

Despite his theft, scamming, anger, and violence, Elvis seems very real. His relationship with his daughter Lena humanizes him thoroughly. His struggles become her struggles. Everything that he does, and everything that gets him deeper into trouble, connects directly to her. The audience feels this connection, and we hope he will win if for no other reason than Lena.

The acting is superb. From the tenants who only appear for a moment to the major characters, all play their parts well. Each of the characters serves a purpose and moves the story forward. How they all connect to the larger narrative and build the story as a whole is impressive. While not many of the characters are likable, the audience can understand them. Having real people in a narrative is a treat in the midst of so many shallow films.

Cash Only presents a relentless pace that had me glued to the screen. I will not spoil the ending here, but those looking for an exceptionally well done character-driven crime drama will find much to appreciate. The film does not transcend the genre, and many have probably seen a movie similar. However, this one hits most of the right notes. Some elements of manufactured suspense later in the film seemed forced and unneeded. One particular moment that amounts to nothing more than a momentary delay disrupted the pace, and its presence did nothing for the characters.

Small flaws should not deter a viewer from checking this out. It is an interesting commentary on Detroit, immigrants, and how far we are willing to go to save those we care about. Further, the desperation of poverty is made obvious from the first scene. The ending of the film tries to reconcile and redeem much of the narrative. To an extent it works, to another it is jarring from the rest of the film. Overall, definitely worth a worth. 8.25/10

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