Pusher (1996) [Review]

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A drug pusher grows increasingly desperate after a botched deal leaves him with a large debt to a ruthless drug lord.

Before director Nicolas Winding Refn became more widely known for the excellent ‘Drive’ & ‘Bronson’, he burst onto the scene with what was regarded as the first Danish Gangster film; Pusher. This tale of a sympathetic, anti-hero, drug pusher battling his way through Copenhagen to settle a debt with a drug boss was so successful that two sequels were released after, and served as a platform to propel Kim Bodnia and Mads Mikkelsen into Danish cinema superstardom.

The first in the trilogy is portrayed as a raw and unforgiving tale of greed and unpredictability. The aspiration for the high life through dodgy deals, loans to pay off loans, and trusting people just as reliable as the unreliable drug pusher creates and endless cycle of violence and disappointment. Kim Bodnia’s character, Milo, draws sympathy from the audience despite his role in society, playing the victim of circumstance brilliantly as he skirts his way through life avoiding a beating where possible, but is always two steps back when convinced he is one step ahead.

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The camera shakes about, the music pumps loudly and the violence seems all too real. It’s this low-budget realism that carries the film and is no doubt one of the contributing factors as to what left a lasting impression on audiences at the time. We’re not really offered much in terms of character depth or back story; showing emotion isn’t favoured when your life involves intimidating people for money, so to do so would have seemed out of place. Unflinching, unforgiving and cold typifies all of those in connection to Milo and his nasty lifestyle, and it’s the way Refn wanted it to be.

This is a bleak film with very few, if any, winners at all. Yet somehow, you will keep watching for the hope that something good arises; mainly for Milo, but in general, for anyone. Amidst all the beatings, drug taking, drug dealing and intimidation, and despite only really scratching the surface of what Refn is capable of depicting, I cared what happened to each of the characters. Owed in part to the terrific performances from the cast, but largely due to the simplicity of the story and the near perfect execution.

Fans of the gangster genre, seek out this film and you will not be disappointed.

Pusher is available on DVD as a trilogy, and I will be watching the other 2 over the coming months.

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