Elvis Martini (Nickola Shreli, who also wrote the script) is on a really bad streak. He’s behind on his mortgage for the rental apartment he owns and the bank wants to foreclose. The majority of his tenants are behind on their rent and the ones who pay on time are constantly nagging him to fix broken items in their units. Furthermore, he is unable to make the required payments for his daughter’s Albanian centric school, so she spends her day at home playing video games. To top it all off, Martini owes a local loan shark $10,000. If it was not for a recorded phone message, the last memory of his wife who died in a fire that he accidently caused, Martini would probably lose his mind.
Despite all of his issues, Martini calmly works toward getting himself out of his downward spiral. His first move is to step up the pressure on his slack renters. One in particular, Rolexa (Maia Noni), who has a son Martini’s daughter’s age, works the streets at night and is $1800 behind on her rent. Opting to evict her, and change the locks, when she is not home, Martini stumbles upon a stash of cash in her apartment. Oblivious to Rolexa’s threats, when she comes looking to get back into her place, Martini uses his new found wealth to pay down on some of his debts. However, it is only when he receives an ominous call from a stranger, Dino (Stivi Paskoski), that Martini begins to realize the true consequences associated with the money he took.
Director Malik Bader does an excellent job of making the dilapidated city of Detroit a major character in the film. He evokes a cold and rundown landscape whose inhabitants are on the lower rung of society. Cash Only is anchored by Nickola Shreli’s captivating screenplay which feels authentic, Sherli actually was an apartment landlord in Detroit at one point, and moves at measured pace. Not only are characters fully formed, but Shreli and Bader create a vivid image of life within Detroit’s Albanian community. There is a tactile feel to the way the film presents the social aspects of the community which include parties to celebrate an impending wedding, a church leader offering words of wisdom and blessing to locals.
Instead of merely resting on the already strong premise, Cash Only raises the tension and stakes even further by having Dino take something very precious to Martini. Knowing that only returning the cash, plus interest, will suffice, the audience cannot help but be on the edge of their seats as they witness how far Martini is willing to go to come up with the money. All of this builds up to what can only be described as one of the most intense moments caught on film this year.
Cash Only is an intense thriller that builds to one scorching finale. Bader crafts a film that will not only excite viewers, but will also have imaginations running wild. The smartly written film captures the Albanian-American experience in a unique way and sticks with the audience long after it ends. Cash Only is a film that I highly recommend.