MOVIE REVIEW | Pusher (1996)


Before scoring a massive, mainstream hit full of Gosling goodness with Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn directed one of the most mind blowing movies I’ve stumbled across in recent years with Bronson (it’s like Chopper…  If the main character was more insane, more violent, more darkly hilarious and based just as much on a real world figure.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen Bronson, you really should).  But before that, and whole lot of other stuff, Nicolas Winding Refn kicked off his career with Pusher.

As the title suggests, this is all about the world of drug dealing.  Kim Bodnia plays Franky, a low level Copenhagen dealer who’ll sell whatever he can his hands on to make a buck and fund his own habit, as well as drinking and hanging out with his partner Tonny, played Mads Mikkelsen.   Franky already owes Milo, his local wholesaler of the hard stuff, 50,000 kroner, until the promise of one big sale to an ex-prison buddy puts him closer to 300,000 in debt.

Soon, Franky is going from one end of Copenhagen to the other, trying to call in money owed to him, borrow more, make deals and do anything he can to pay his debts and save his life.  I don’t think it’s any accident on the part of the screenplay that almost every “deal” is done on credit.  Constantly Franky and others buy and sell everything from drugs, to firearms, to mobile phones, and on almost every occasion, when it’s time for money to change hands, the buyer is asking for credit with a promise to pay soon.  It’s like the entire black economy of the movie is nothing more than numbers floating in the air, based on and handshakes and promises.  Which makes it only hit harder when the very real, very mortal consequences begin to bare down on Bodina’s Franky.

One thing I really liked about Pusher is its objectivity.  This is no cautionary tale about the pitfalls of a life of crime or drug use.  But at the same time, it’s in no way a glorification of any of that either.  It looks like an accurate, fly on the wall account of people doing a particular job and the bullshit that comes with it.  Well, it looks accurate to my white bread, suburban, upper working / lower middle class eyes, anyway.  Franky is never portrayed as a hero or tragic victim.  He’s a man doing what he thinks needs to be done it.  He’s not misunderstood, he’s not struggling with any inner demons, he’s just dealing with decisions he’s made and the consequences that come with them.

As pretentious as it may sound to say, the camera really is almost its own character in Pusher.  Constantly in motion, even when the characters it’s shooting are not, the camera work goes beyond hand held.  Almost every single scene starts and finishes with the camera following someone in and out of the given location.  This might be one of the only movies I’ve ever seen where we see characters’ backs almost as much as their faces.  But this non-stop motion really does add to the movie, making the viewer almost as anxious and on edge as Franky when the walls start to close in around him.

This is a really impressive effort from a first time director and you can see hints of where he was headed with something like Drive more than fifteen years later.  And maybe the Scandinavian setting, characters and costumes threw me off, but it doesn’t look fifteen years at old at all, it has aged really well.  Seriously though, if you haven’t seen Bronson, see it first.  Then give Pusher a go if you have time.

Directed By – Nicolas Winding Refn
Written By – Jens Dahl, Nicolas Winding Refn

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