Pusher (1999)

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Kim Bodnia, Zlatko Burić, Laura Drasbæk, Slavko Labović, Mads Mikkelsen .Denmark. 1h 45m

Debuts don’t often hit as hard as this ruthless epic from director Nicolas Winding Refn. as he kicks his cast into a twisting crime story that leaves them free falling without a net. Somewhere in the dank backstreets and hidden rooms behind the pretty façade of Copenhagen a vibrant underworld of dangerous characters are revealed as Frank has the worst run of bad luck I’ve ever seen, there really isn’t a dull moment in Pusher, so hold on to your seat while you watch the first of an incredibly raw and compelling trilogy.

There’s a constant urban feel as Frank tussles around from one drug deal to another, there’s nothing warm and confronting in this hard movie, Frank himself is pretty low down on the food chain, having big debts with a larger character Milo (Burić ) who is a Serb drug lord with a fondness of baking, sadly Frank has the gambler mentality and seems to beleive he can make his money with a double of quits each time, but as things keep going wrong through his fault or just tragic fuck ups Frank is always left without. His disheveled face says it all as he begins to form a 1000 yard stare as the film broils on.

After scoring some heroin with his best friend and sidekick Tonny (Mikkelsen), the pair manage to sell some of their stash but spend their time kicking around town, later they visit a high class prostitute who holds some of Franks stash for a fee, Vic (Drasbaek) Frank is quite casual about the set up, she’s pretty, easy to bang and seems devoted to him, but he’s not willing to have a cocktail girl for a lover and often treats her rough.

After meeting up with a former cellmate, a Swedish guy named Hasse (Andersson) the pair set up a BIG deal and Frank has to go to his supplier Milo, who he already owes money to, with the promise that if he gets enough heroin for this deal it will be enough to pay off this batch and his previous debts but this is first of many deals to go bad. and Milo isn’t a man to fuck with for long.

Through all the big high action and disturbing scenes, Refn adds in these little moments of humanity, at one point Milo has had enough fo Franks excuses and send a brutal enforcer Radovan (Labovic) to babysit him to ensure things eventually go right, a way for Frank to pay off some of the increasing debt, while going rough up someone in Franks predicament and they have a chat about how Radovan doesn’t mind cutting people up for a living but really a heart he just wants to open up a little restaurant and bring a taste of home to Copenhagen, then they are up a flight of stairs and pressure a guy to the point of suicide. the switching between the face of street evil and the characters behind it are so sharp and usual for this type of thriller.

As Frank becomes as aggressive as his situation, he finds himself falling down the drug dealers rabbit hole, he slowly begins to tick off his allies, Tonny gets a vicious beating which removes him from the film, don’t worry there’s sequel all about him, but Kim Bodnia is absolutely terrific as this wanna be tough dealer, he’s got enough edge to stay in the game but not enough to actually turn the tables in his favour despite his strongest efforts. You really feel for Frank but at the same time he’s kinda doing this to himself and there’s so many reasons to hate him. As the film draws to its bitter ending it turns from physical to psychological mind fuckery but nothing equals those final 15 minutes which end up being the quietest but scariest of the movie. I literally sat back in my seat and watched the embodied of “OH FUCK” emanates from the screen.

For a debut this really was a clear sign that Refn was going to be an outstanding director and Pusher really cemented his name in the cinema history books, along with giving excellent exposure to Mikkelsen and Bodnia. As mentioned there are a couple of sequels, they are a slightly different flavour and their impact hits in different ways, but it’s a strong trilogy but nothing from the 90’s really hits as hard as Pusher, especially it’s poor relation of a remake back in 2012 which at best was laughable.

Rating: 9/10

Related: Pusher II (2004), Pusher 3 (2005), R Hit First Hit Hardest (2010), Underverden/  Darkland (2017)
Lists: A-Z Of Danish Cinema
Spotlight: Mads Mikkelsen, Kim Bodnia, Nicolas Winding Refn
Vs: Pusher Vs Pusher


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