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  Pusher Worst Week
Year: 1996
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Stars: Kim Bodnia, Zlatko Buric, Laura Drasbaek, Slavko Labovic, Mads Mikkelsen, Peter Andersen, Vaesilije Bojicic, Lisbeth Rasmussen, Levino Jensen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Bom, Michael Hasselflug, Nicolas Winding Refn, Jesper Lohman, Steen Fridberg
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: It's Monday and another week commences, but for Frank (Kim Bodnia), what he thought would be unremarkable will turn out to be far more perilous, for himself and those around him. He makes his living as a drug pusher and is quite comfortable as it goes, driving about Copenhagen with his pal Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen), shooting the breeze, not on the highest rung of the ladder by any means but doing well enough to keep his head above water. However, while he is able to be blasé about any deal where the contact does not, say, have sufficient funds to complete said deal, he has never been in the position of not having the money to supply the drugs barons...

Pusher was Nicolas Winding Refn's contribution to the Eurocrime scene as it was regarded from the perspective of its filmmakers. He protested in interviews that he was really not that interested in the real life ducking and diving that was involved with actual drugs deals, and was merely using crime as a means to an end storywise, and in fact would get cagey when asked about how far his research into this criminal underworld went, but for what it was worth, he did concoct a strong atmosphere of lowlife desperation that could occur when the criminal existence went very wrong. This was his first feature, and it made quite an impact on all who saw it, with the usual comparisons.

Most film buffs identified a debt to Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets, though Refn said he was more into Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust, which would explain the proliferation of handheld camerawork that almost casually captured the bursts of violence as Frank's existence starts to close in on him. Some said, with numbing predictability, that it was Quentin Tarantino he was emulating, yet while it was accurate to observe some of the aimless dialogue exchanges appeared to owe something to him, especially in the profanity and casual racism, they were by no means the main focus as this was more centred on creating a selection of dialogues that reflected the way Copenhagen crims spoke.

The plot was almost childishly simple, and one we had seen before and doubtless will see again - going back to Anthony Newley in The Small World of Sammy Lee and beyond, and forward to the Safdie Brothers' Uncut Gems and probably further, as it was a premise filmmakers liked to return to over and over. Yes, Frank owes money to his Serbian drug baron Milo (Zlatko Buric), and the more he delays paying up, the more the debt spirals out of control, in a "never a debtor nor a lender be" lesson for anybody watching. OK, that probably was not foremost on the director's mind, but it did act as a warning for anyone who needs extra cash to go about it through proper channels, since the alternative we witnessed here was nothing less than a living nightmare for the protagonist.

While there was a feeling that Pusher was threatening to glamorise the drug dealing life with its bad boy cool, in fact by the end of it you would be relieved you were not Frank, or anywhere near him to be in his social circle, because he is not just making some bad choices, he is also having others' bad choices foisted upon him. He begins to flail and thrash as the cinematography grows gloomier, lashing out at his junkie girlfriend Vic (Laura Drasbaek) - the biggest cliché in the movie, it had to be said - as Milo's initially avuncular reasonableness turns more forceful and menacing, a small theme being how even the most dodgy of men can come across as friendly and approachable until you cross them, and then they will have no qualms about coming down on you like a ton of bricks. But if Pusher looks like what it is now, a calling card film to get a foot in the door of the business, it remained a compelling watch assuming you were not turned off by these characters within about five minutes, which was all too possible. Music by Povl Kristan and Peter Peter.

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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