Pusher is a precautionary tale of the risks of ambition and the descent from power. The film focuses on a drug-dealer named Frank whose life is in complete disarray when he botches a deal and owes his supplier an enormous amount of money. Everything that can go wrong goes wrong, with possible mortal consequences for Frank. This subtitled film was the first of a trilogy, shot on a low budget in Denmark and was released in 1996.
This is the first film directed by Nicholas Winding Refn who also co-wrote the screenplay. If the name sounds familiar then you may have seen a little movie called “Drive” last year. This was the newest film by the director that met moderate success and a small cult following. Since then Refn and “Drive’s” star, Ryan Gosling, have finished another film not yet released called “Only God Forgives” and another Refn/Gosling collaboration is in the talk of making a remake of the 1976 film “Logan’s Run”. I’m a really huge fan of this director and see him as a great talent on the rise that may someday have the respect as a director comparable to Stanley Kubrick or Martin Scorsese as he gets deeper into his career. If you liked “Drive” and also dug up this older work by him then check out other great films he has under his belt such as “Valhalla Rising” and “Bronson”. All of these films hit hard with graphic brutality and can be gritty but have fantastic drama and characters that are great contributions to the spectacle of cinema.
This film shows the world of drugs without glorifying or romanticizing it (don’t expect a film like Blow with Johnny Depp). It captures the dangerous and grizzly aspects of addictive substances and has a lot of similarities to “Requiem for a Dream” in how its character falls prey to substance and his own ambition, and then we watch his life collapse. The film has a kind of grainy low budget look to it; but that just feeds into the grittiness of the world that Refn builds, where the surroundings are just as dark and brutal as the thugs and low-lifes that inhabit it. The language is extremely vulgar and the violence can make you grind your teeth but it all has purpose in making a great tragedy about an anti-hero protagonist.
So if you liked “Drive”, see the roots where it’s great director emerged from, and look into the rest of his work. If you like “Pusher” and want more street-romping, teeth-shattering urban-excursions, check out films like Snatch (2000), Layer Cake (2004) and La Haine (1995).