Cash Only (2015) [Fantasia Film Festival]



Elvis Martini owes money, a lot of money, to a dog-fighting ring running psychopath Dino who has kidnapped his daughter for ransom. Elvis does everything he can to save her as she is all he has following the loss of his wife, her mother. He must find an insanely high amount of money to pay Dino back for stealing the money the madman sees as his that was stashed in one of the tenants’ place in Elvis’ building. The father will stop at absolutely nothing to save his child.

The film is set in the Albanian part of Detroit and is partially in English, partially in Albanian, creating a situation that feels worlds away yet familiar. This situation the lead is put in is extreme and would almost feel like karma for some of his action if he had not already been acting out of desperation. This is a man getting a loan to pay for a previous loan who eventually decides to use money that is not his and it backfires royally. The lead is not a clear-cut good guy but is a man trying to survive and give his child a good life, the fact that everything goes badly for him only adds to his pressure until he cracks and does unspeakable things to pay the ransom for his daughter’s safe return.

The character of Elvis is played by Nickola Shreli who also wrote the movie, thus writing himself a complex character, not fully bad and not fully good, making him very human and realistic. His actions have consequences and when these repercussions turn dire, he takes matters in his own hands showing strength of character which shows through Shreli’s performance. He shows a wide range of emotions as a man broken by life attempting to keep up appearances until he needs to do drastic things. The bulk of Cash Only rests on Shreli’s shoulders making his performance even more crucial to the movie’s success. The support cast is filled with mainly unknown actors who all turn in decent to great performances. In the part of Dino, the evil psychopath who kidnaps Elvis’ daughter is Stivi Paskoski who gives his character a creeping sense of dread as he ruthlessly tortures Elvis with glee.

He makes it easy to hate him and to root for Elvis even though he is no angel himself. The writing not only develops detailed characters, but also their environment, setting the story in the Albanian community in Detroit which, from what is shown, seems to be a mainly self-sufficient group and it serves to isolate Elvis even more in his time of need as he doesn’t want to involve his own but also doesn’t have many resources outside of his neighborhood. This highlights some of the struggles immigrant and smaller, tight-knit communities have to deal with on a regular basis in the United States and elsewhere. Directing this script and acting is Malik Bader who brings the story to life while keeping it realistic. His vision of the script helps bring across the struggles the lead and his community in general go through while trying to survive and remain true to who they are amidst trying times and violence.

Cash Only shows a harsh reality that some people have to survive through and shows the strength of character one will display and the lengths they will go to for a loved one. The struggles and relationship difficulties shown here are all too real and the film will hit home for a lot of viewers on different levels.