Not every taken child has Liam Neeson for a father. The interesting twist in Cash Only was not that Elvis Martini possesses a specific set of skills, rather it was what a completely ordinary person does when their life is turned upside down. Startlingly real, Cash Only makes the viewer wonder just how far they would go to save someone they love. While it is difficult to call Cash Only a feel good movie, I enjoyed it. The level of realism and the feeling of characters being flawed, ordinary people made this movie so entertaining.
Detroit acts as a background character in Cash Only. Written by a Detroiter, Cash Only is set and filmed in the city. Many of the people involved in the film are from Detroit or have ties to the city. In the film, you see the beginnings of gentrification, the solidarity of the Albanian community, and the criminal underside of the city in one apartment building. Add in a landlord saddled with debt and little else in the economic downturn being experienced in so many urban settings and there is bound to be conflict. Whatever shady deals Elvis makes as a landlord to keep his property safe from foreclosure, he believes in the innocence of children. He does everything for the benefit of his daughter. When Elvis evicts a tenant, he brings her son to his own apartment to keep him safe and calm. Adults make mistakes and are flawed in his world and Elvis wants to protect children from the evils of the adult world.
Perhaps that is why Elvis takes such drastic measures when his daughter is taken after an assets seizure goes sideways. His morals were questionable, but prior to his daughter being kidnapped, Elvis was a normal man trying to do the best by his family. After she is kidnapped, Elvis lies, cheats, and steals to get what he needs. He pushes beyond his limits of acceptable behavior to protect the only innocent thing in his life- his daughter. With cool indifference to those he schemes and a gritty resolve, Elvis takes off without the flair of Neeson’s pursuit, but with no less determination.
With so much of the story centered on Elvis, some of the other characters suffer. Kush, a tenant, is given ample time but Pete, a corrupt cop with lots of potential story, is left unexplored. Lena, the kidnapped daughter, is treated as many kidnapped daughters are- without much time to develop. What seems more important is the development of the community. With characters slipping between subtitled Albanian and English in a patois familiar to anyone living near an ethnic community with native speakers, the Albanian community as a whole functions almost as a separate character, one often ignored in Detroit-based cinema.
Sure, Elvis is not a super spy. He is not an operative- not even an ex-operative- but he loves his daughter. What he lacks in hand to hand combat training, he makes up for in realism. Gritty, raw, down to earth, and in your face, Cash Only will leave you wondering what is really going on with all the ordinary people around you.