|The Pusher Trilogy
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
Danish filmmaker Nicholas Winding Refn burst onto the scene in the early
1990s with his debut feature PUSHER (1996), a verité-style look at the criminal
underworld of Copenhagen. Because the movie, which made the festival circuit
before getting a brief release in the States in 1999 was lumped in with various
others made by Tarantino wannabes, Refn didn't get the acclaim he might have
deserved. And because he did not take part in the Dogme movement that was
championed by his countrymen, he remains somewhat of an overlooked figure.
After making a couple of other features, Refn was in debt with a family to support,
so he turned to his signature movie and decided to make two companion pieces.
The films are not exactly sequels, although some of the same characters appear.
Instead, they are form a continuing tale. Refn has always made it clear the debt
he felt to Scorsese and Cassavetes, among others, but of late he also has
acknowledged American television shows like THE SOPRANOS.
THE PUSHER TRILOGY can be seen all in one day or over time or even
as individual parts. Each film stands on its own. The subject matter is bleak
and dark, the criminal element is merely a backdrop though -- a plot point if
you will -- to three character studies. Each film turns on a drug deal gone bad
and each has consequences. Taken separately or as a whole, they are impressive.
If you watch them in sequence, you can chart Refn's growth as a filmmaker and
see how he becomes more and more comfortable with the process.
PUSHER (1996) centers on the charasmatic yet brutal Frank (a mesmerising
Kim Bodnia), a low-level drug dealer who fancies himself as the king of
Copenhagen. On the surface, Frank appears to be your usual thug, but as the
film unfolds the audience comes to learn that he lives by his own code of ethics:
he respects his mother, he won't have sex with his stripper/prostitute girlfriend
and he won't rat out a friend. He is, though, having probably the worst week of
his life. He has overextended his credit with his supplier Milo (Zlatko Buric), a
courier has absconded with a delivery, and he eventually becomes caught in a
police sting that results in a brief jail stay. As circumstances conspire against
him and with the threat of death hanging over him, Frank and his psyche begin
to unravel. The immediacy of Frank's situation and his descent into a personal
hell is realized through Refn's impeccable direction and the hand-held camerawork
of Morten Søborg.
Frank is nowhere to be found in PUSHER II: WITH BLOOD ON MY HANDS
(2004), although there is a quick mention of him as being out of the country.
Instead, his skinhead sidekick Tonny (Mads Mikklesen) takes center stage. In the
first film, he betrays Frank and in return, Frank beats him senseless with a
baseball bat. Not exactly an Einstein to start with, the beating may have left
Tonny with brain damage. At the start of the movie, he's being counseled by his
cellmate just before being released from prison. Returning home, he again
descends into the underworld of crime, hooking up with KusseKurt (Kurt Nielsen)
in the hopes of gaining the respect of his crime boss father (Leif Sylvester
Petersen) nicknamed "The Duke." Another complication arises when former
girlfriend Charlotte (Anne Sørensen) claims that Tonny is the father of her son.
The film then becomes about fathers and sons on one level as Tonny seeks
redemption in his father's eyes while he struggles with his own feelings toward
his own son. Of course, there are drug deals gone awry (Milo makes a cameo
appearance for one of them) which are the linking stories for the films. Instead
of a large-scale finale, Refn employs one out of a Greek tragedy and seemingly
hold out the small possibility of change. PUSHER II solely rests on the intense
and unforgettable performance of Mikklesen as Tonny.
PUSHER 3: I'M THE ANGEL OF DEATH (2005) may be the best of the trilogy
perhaps because the central figure is Buric's Milo. In the first film, he was an
avuncular figure. He would offer friendship while doing business, but he easily
turned if you disappointed him. He was Frank's surrogate father in that film.
In PUSHER 3, he has a whole set of problems. First, he's trying to stay off drugs
and attends NA meetings. Secondly, the expected shipment of heroin turned out
to be Ecstasy about which he knows little. This forces him to reluctantly rely on
the new generation. Lastly, Milo has agreed to cater the 25th birthday party of
his very spoiled daughter Milena (Marinela Dekic). As one recalls in the first film,
Milo is not as great a cook as he thinks. Indeed, his own men suffer a bout of
food poisoning after eating a tainted batch of food.
Like Frank and Tonny, Milo ends up involved in a deal gone bad and he
must juggle that with his demanding daughter. There are some nifty little
surprises, including the return of Milo's old henchman Radovan (Slavko Labovic),
now a successful restaurateur. Milo literally has to get his hands dirty in a
sequence that is not for the squeamish. The echoes and parallels to the first
film make PUSHER 3 perhaps the richest of the trilogy. Buric certainly manages
to hold the viewer's attention.
Seen individually or as a whole, THE PUSHER TRILOGY demonstrates Refn's
mastery as a filmmaker. Perhaps if the Americanized television series makes
it to the air, then more people will have heard of this gifted filmmaker.
Running time: 105 mins.
Rating: B +
Running time: 96 mins.
Rating: B +
Running time: 102 mins.
Viewed at Magno Review Two