I didn’t know too much about the Pusher Trilogy by Nicolas Winding Refn before they screened together at the State Theatre as part of the Dark Mofo festival in Hobart. What I knew was that they were from Denmark, and the titles kind of gave me some indication of the content, beyond that I avoided reading anything wanting as untainted a viewing as possible and it helped as these films really pack a punch!
The first film focuses on Frank (Kim Bodnia from The Bridge TV series fame) a two-bit drug dealer, tracking his life as a sequence of mishaps see him indebted to his supplier, Serbian gangster, Milo (Zlatko Buric). The film gives a raw depiction of how his actions, or stupid decisions, see his life spiraling out of his control. There is also a wonderful side story of Frank’s friendship with Vic, a prostitute, who seems to like Frank more than he her.
The movie was an international blockbuster when it was first released and launched the careers of both Refn and Mads Mikkelsen (currently starring in the highly acclaimed film The Hunt) who plays Franks’ sleazy porn-obsessed accomplice Tonny.
Kim Bodnia brings Frank to life in his gritty portrayal of a man whose unpredictable lifestyle ends up bringing about his demise. The minimal use of music also helps to highlight both time (the story is told over a week in Frank’s life) firstly moving slowly with Frank as he goes around the city being a thug and dealing, and then to highlight the increasing tension as everything starts to unravel in his business and private life. The final scenes leave no doubt that Frank’s world is at breaking point as we see him exposed and desperate. Bodnia is visceral in his expression without any words needed. Not surprisingly, (although somewhat disappointingly for Bodnia’s acting alone) we never do see Frank again.
Pusher II: With Blood on my Hands (2004)
The second film follows Frank’s off-sider, Tonny, played by Mads Mikkelsen, who showed real promise as an actor in the first film, and who gives an outstanding performance in the second. Just released from prison the film focuses more on Tonny’s relationship with his notorious gangster father and the way he vies for his acceptance.
We see Tonny struggle not only to try and gain his father’s respect, but with debt, paternity issues, being the brunt of ridicule and used by those around him such as by the aply named crook known as The Cunt. Ironically the tattoo on the back of Tonny’s shaven head saying respect seems to have little impact in reality. It is also The Cunt who entangles Tonny in a botched up deal with, yep, Milo.
As with Pusher, all the struggles come to a climax and once again the tension and desperation, that this time Tonny finds himself in, is what is so riveting to watch.
Pusher III: I’m the Angel of Death (2005)
Made one year after Pusher II this film shifts the focus to tracking a day in the life of Milo. Milo, the Serbian drug lord who was a feared and respected man in the first two movies, is now older and the film depicts his desperate attempt to hold onto his status as a ‘player’ in the drug world and his own battles with addiction.
As with the first two films there is a sub-story of a more personal nature in this film, this time it’s between Milo and his daughter Milena (Marinela Dekic). Besotted by his daughter there are wonderful scenes showing Milo, as he tries to plan and cook for her 25th birthday celebrations, putting on a controlled front, whilst in reality his world is spiraling into chaos.
Refn is great at building tension and this film is no different with a climax that cuts to the heart of these films that being that they are about people caught up in a lifestyle that forces them, often by circumstance rather than choice, to lose themselves.
And, while they are not really likable characters, these actors under Refn’s direction, draw us into their world enough to feel some empathy for their degenerating situations.
Gritty, raw and totally unpretentious the Pusher Trilogy is definitely worth seeing!