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Denmark 1996
Directed by
Nicolas Winding Refn
105 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
David Michael Brown
4 stars


From the loud, in-your-face opening that brazenly introduces each of the main characters to its frenetic, brutal conclusion Nicolas Winding Refn’s debut feature, Pusher, pulls no punches as it descends into Copenhagen’s underworld and the life of its title character, Frank, a small time drug dealer who finds himself in debt to his ruthless suppliers after he lose their dope in a drug bust. Trying to deal his way out of his predicament, the treacherous world of which he thought he was king progressively pulls him closer and closer to his undoing.

A cautionary tale, a thriller and a character study; the sure hand that the debut director shows is exceptional considering his inexperience at the time. This film could have been a bloody mess but Refn knows exactly how to handle the film’s numerous storylines and pulls everything together superbly. Pusher confounds all expectations with every plot twist as Frank’s reality becomes more blurred by the second as he commits the cardinal sin of any drug dealer, don’t use what you sell.

The cast is wonderful; Mads Mikkelsen may be recognized by audiences as the villain in the latest Bond film Casino Royale but here he gives a firecracker performance as Tonny, Frank’s young accomplice turned Judas. The villain of the piece here, drug boss Milo is played with reptilian relish by Zlatko Bulric, part charming rogue part sociopath. This duality of tone is used to create a wonderful tension between Milo and Frank when the time comes for the pusher to admit he has lost all of Milo’s drugs and money. Frank himself, played by Kim Bodnia, is again perfectly judged; his ever-increasing desperation as his life spirals out of control is comical and brutal at once.

The film is violent but don’t let that put you off. Refn has made a savage and honest film that will have you laughing as often as you grimace. It’s not surprising that the film produced two sequels that formed the Pusher trilogy. With Blood On My Hands (2004) and I’m The Angel of Death (2005) followed the lives of Tonny and Milo respectively. All three are of a high calibre but, like most trilogies, the first installment is the best.




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