Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and screenplay by Refn and Jens Dahl from a story by Refn, Pusher is the story of a week in the life of a mid-level drug dealer who is trying to maintain a professional life as he is dealing with people who is trying to involve themselves into her personal life. Starring Kim Bodnia, Zlatko Buric, Laura Drasbaek, Slavko Labovic, Mads Mikkelsen, Vanja Bajicic, and Peter Andersson. Pusher is an exciting and chilling debut film from Nicolas Winding Refn.
Frank (Kim Bodnia) is a drug dealer who deals in all sorts of drugs in Copenhagen with his friend Tonny (Mad Mikkelsen) as they live a lifestyle that is fast and profitable. Though Frank also has a girlfriend-of-sorts in a prostitute named Vic (Laura Drasbaek), he remains focused on his work as a dealer as he owes money to a Serbian drug lord named Milo (Zlatko Buric). When Frank meets a Swedish man named Hasse whom he knew in prison years ago, Frank asks Milo for 200k of heroin to sell to Hasse so he can pay off his debt. Instead, the deal goes wrong when cops come in and bust Frank who loses the drugs and finds himself in even more trouble with Milo.
In order to repay Milo the debt that has now increased, Frank reluctantly teams up with Milo’s bodyguard Radovan (Slavko Labovic) where they find those who owes Frank money only to come up with very little. With his time up and no one to help him, Frank devotes his time to Vic whose dog is very ill as she is hoping that they become a real couple. Yet, when one of his drug mules in Rita (Lisbeth Rasmussen) reveals what she did to drugs that Frank gave her to sell. Frank realizes he’s in serious trouble as he contemplates making one final move with Vic to help.
The film is about a week in the life of a drug dealer whose attempt to clear a debt to his boss becomes troubling as he is forced to face the severity of his life in his attempt to get everything that he owes. It’s a film that explores the life of this mid-level drug dealer who is good at what he does, he makes connections so he can create these deals but he is also very detached when it comes to his personal life. He has a girlfriend where he’s only interested in just having sex with her rather than have a real relationship. He has a friend whom he just wants to help him in the drug deals. Then he has this boss whom he’s friendly to but when things go wrong, the boss no longer becomes friendly as he and his henchman become quite vicious towards him.
The screenplay that Nicolas Winding Refn and Jens Dahl create is a story where they follow the life of this drug dealer in the span of a week as the script is also a character study of sorts. There’s not many reasons into why Frank doesn’t like to reveal much about his personal life though he only tells Tonny about why he’s cautious in having sex with Vic. With Vic, he doesn’t say much to her either though he does like to take her out to places. When he’s doing his dealing, he’s focused but after things go wrong. He has no idea what to do where his only motivation is pay off this debt or else he’ll face various consequences. He’ll probably go to prison again, he’ll likely get beat up, or he might be killed. He also has to deal with betrayals and other problems that just raises the stakes of everything he’s dealing with as the script succeeds in creating the element of suspense over everything that is happening to him.
Refn’s direction is very entrancing for the way he creates a film that is more than just some drama about a drug dealer’s troubles. It’s a film that is filled with lots of excitement such as Frank trying to run from the police through Copenhagen while there’s a lot of humor involving scenes with Tonny. Still, it’s a dramatic film with a lot of dark and intense moments where it revolves on a man trying to pay off his debt in the film’s second half where the film’s violence is more brutal and the humor is much darker. While a lot of the film is shot in a hand-held style with lots of close-ups and wide shots to display the violence. Refn’s direction is always engaging for the way he captures these very personal relationships and how a character like Frank tries to deal with all of his troubles. Overall, Refn creates a very solid and thrilling film that refuses to play to convention while taking some of these conventions to make it exciting.
Cinematographer Morten Soborg does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography that is quite vibrant and colorful for the film‘s daytime scenes in its interior and exterior setting while playing to the stylish look of nighttime Copenhagen as the photography features some grain to maintain a gritty look. Editor Anne Osterud does wonderful work with the editing by creating some amazing rhythmic cuts for some of the film‘s intense moments of violence along with a more straightforward approach to the editing for the more dramatic scenes. Production designer Kim Lovetand Julebaek does terrific work with the film’s art direction from the place that Milo runs to the loft that Frank shares with Vic.
Costume designer Loa Miller does very good work with the costumes from the track suits Frank and Tonny wear to the more stylish clothing of Vic. Sound editor Peter Schultz does superb work with the film‘s sound to capture the atmosphere of the clubs Frank, Tonny, and Vic attend to the intimacy of Milo‘s home to play out the suspense. The film’s score by Povl Kristian and Peter Peter is brilliant for the soundtrack that is created as it ranges from throbbing electronic music to thrilling hard rock as the soundtrack also includes a cut from the American metal band White Zombie in the film’s chase scene.
The film’s ensemble cast is incredible as it includes some small but memorable performances from Lars Bom as a police officer who interrogates Frank, Thomas Bo Larsen as an addict Frank and Radovan confront, Vanja Bajicic as one of Milo’s henchman, Lisbeth Rasmussen as Frank’s drug mule Rita, and Peter Andersson as the Swedish drug dealer Hasse that Frank meets who offers to buy drugs from him. Slavko Labovic is excellent as the brutish but also calm henchman Radovan while Mads Mikkelsen is wonderful as Frank’s very funny sidekick Tonny. Laura Drasbaek is terrific as Frank’s prostitute girlfriend who is trying to deal with Frank’s detached emotions as well as her own issues as she becomes concerned over their dog King. Zlatko Buric is great as Frank’s drug lord boss Milo who is just trying to maintain a good business while reminding Frank who is boss.
Finally, there’s Kim Bodnia in a marvelous performance as Frank where Bodnia brings a very low-key approach to a man who is quite troubled while also proving to be quite friendly with his friends. Bodnia’s performance also shows a brutality to a man who is put into an amazing amount of pressure where he also has this scene where he’s at his mother’s home where he knows what he’s doing isn’t good though it’s very understated to display the desperation that he’s going through.
Pusher is a remarkable film from Nicolas Winding Refn that features a great cast led by Kim Bodnia. The film is definitely a unique take on the world of drug culture while focusing the film on characters who are interesting and not playing to stereotypes. It’s also a film that is a nice introduction to Refn’s work outside of his more recent English-language films that broke him into the international film scene. In the end, Pusher is a fantastic debut film from Nicolas Winding Refn.
Nicolas Winding Refn Films: Bleeder - Fear X - Pusher II - Pusher 3 - Bronson - Valhalla Rising - Drive - Only God Forgives - The Neon Demon - The Auteurs #12: Nicolas Winding Refn
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