Pusher (1996)

I’m going to assume that drugs are bad?

During a couple of days, middle-man drug-dealer Frank (Kim Bodnia) is living the life he wants to have. He’s got money, he’s got drugs, he’s got a girl (Laura Drasbæk), he’s got a best friend (Mads Mikkelsen), and he’s got some protection on his side, just in case anything ever goes wrong. However, that said protection has been getting a little antsy in the panties lately since Frank has owed money to them. For a long time too, so I might add. But that doesn’t matter because Frank cuts a deal with the kingpin of the mob, Milo (Zlatko Burić), and come together on a deal that will make both sides happy and clear. Then the actual “deal” happens, and not everything goes so according to plan as Frank, Milo and everybody else had hoped.

After Drive hit the cinemas and everybody realized that Ryan Gosling could still be the hottest thing known to man, without uttering a single word and just staring, a new name was brought to the Hollywood-crowd: Nicolas Winding Refn. And yes, it all started back in ’96 with this little gem, that not only put his name on the map, but Danish cinema altogether. Then again though, it was a crime movie made for a total of $15 and a couple of Big Macs, so obviously any type of exposure or audience would have made this flick a “success” to say the least, but I digress.

Don't mess with a man who has two guns in his hands. That's if he can actually control 'em.
Don’t mess with a man who has two guns in his hands. That is if he knows how to fire them simultaneously.

I’ll give credit where credit’s due, for being just 26 at the time and not having any experience whatsoever in a film school or any type of tutelage for that matter; Refn makes for a very impressive-debut because the guy tells the story in a straight-forward way, without any added schlock or strings. Obviously that simplicity would change very drastically over the years, but for his first flick, he made the smart decision in keeping things cool and straight-forward, which altogether made it a very tense, jittery flick that will have you feel as if you’re right there, if not in as much danger as Frank gets over the movies hour-and-a-half. Everything about the film seems like a documentary here, and even though it’s obvious when and where Refn added his own workings to have it gel in a way that’s at least cohesive, it still seems like Refn got together with his buddies, pressed “record” on his tape-recorder, and let loose with whatever story/script he was working with.

I also wonder just how much of a script was used here considering not a single person really seems to be acting. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad thing, as much as it’s just noticeable by how grainy and unprofessional the film seems to be. Obviously everybody here starred in flicks before and had their own type of exposure, but being a Yankee and only leaving my country once (does Niagara Falls count?), I didn’t catch on to what these actors were before the movie. After the movie, I had a pretty clear image in my head since most of them still continue to pop-up in stuff nowadays, which shows that Refn had a good handle on who he was casting, and for what role.

Everybody here gets their roles down to a T, even if most of them feel like they’re just saying shit, just to do so. Well, that is with the exception of Kim Bodnia as Frank, our frantic drug-dealer for the hour-and-a-half. What works so well with Bodnia here is that he doesn’t make Frank really all that sympathetic, but still allows us to root for him, hoping that he eventually escapes the shitty luck he’s been having as of late. He’s not a good guy in the sense that he isn’t moral, per se: He deals drugs, commits crimes, runs from the cops, makes girls do dirty, sexual things to him, and even go so far as to beg his mommy-wommy for a heaping-amount of money, even when it’s pretty clear to us that this is the first time he’s talked to her, or vice versa, in a very long time. In that sense, the guy’s not “likeable”, but once you see him try to go to Point-A-to-Point-B, only to have it all screwed up because of one unlucky coincidence; then you eventually have to open up the arms and just tell him to give you a big one. Bodnia’s great in this role and keeps the movie moving at a nice pace, even when everything and everyone else around him seems to be so relatively regular and ordinary.

And if there was a huge problem I had with this movie, it was that after all of the buzz and hooplah I had heard about this movie (and the two sequels that followed), I was left sort of disappointed. Not because I wanted more bits of gun-toting, violence, sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, but because I expected it to be more than just your ordinary, crime thriller that focused on a drug-dealer who needed to get a certain amount of money before the ticking-clock hit zero. That whole approach provides plenty of tension and a general sense of unease in the air, but it doesn’t bring anything new to a genre that was already hitting it’s high-marks of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, right at around the time this movie hit the streets.

"Don't make promises you can't fulfill. Like this knife to your throat."
“Don’t make promises you can’t fulfill. Like this knife to your throat.”

Yeah, maybe it’s a little too cheap to compare those cinematic classics to anything, anything at all, but with this type of movie, I would have felt like Refn would have had his work cut-out for him and know what to do to make this a bit more unique than your average, forgettable crime-thriller in the same vein as Tarantino’s. Other than the naturalistic-approach, that gives it the grimmest-look I’ve seen of a movie in a long while, there’s not much else to this story. It’s just a guy who needs his drugs, needs his money and needs his safety, so that he can live the life that he wants to live, as bland as it may be. Definitely an idea this movie could have explored more, maybe in a way to separate itself from the rest of the pack, but nope, Refn decided to follow the leader and along the ride, hoping that people will notice something “different” or “unique” to the approach.

I found nothing, but I’m just a dick.

Then again, being a the self-establish film critic that I am, I have to take in each and every flick as they are, and not what they could have been and I could see you doing plenty of other bad crap with your life, other than watching a movie about a bunch of people who do. It has plenty of style to-boot and will probably make you feel more for Refn as a director, especially since you’ll know about his back-story behind this flick and how he decided to turn down the offer from a local film school, just so he could make this movie. Sounds to me like somebody’s making a bit more money now, than half of those fellow-graduates probably made in their whole lifetime. Lesson is: Screw film school! Get out there and make a movie of your own!

Consensus: Despite not being anything criminally new or ground-breaking that hasn’t been done to death by now, Pusher still shows us a force to be reckoned with in the form of Refn, a name who has become synonymous with “artsy”, but shows barely any of that here and to good effect as well.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"So, "no" to the booty-call?"
“So, “no” to the booty-call? What about the drugs at least?”


  1. So I’m guessing you’re going to watch some NWR films… nice. I too am looking forward to “Only God Forgives” as I’ve seen pretty much all of his feature films so far.

    • That’s the next feature on my list to watch. I still need to see more of his flicks, but I’ve seen more than I thought I had, oddly enough.

  2. I liked all three Pusher films…each are so different from each other and as they progress through the series you really start to see Refn’s signature styles coming out. Nice review man.

  3. This is on my to-watch list since I watched and fell in love with Drive. I watched Bronson and thought it was style over substance and Valhalla Rising was style over style, but a better experience. And Mads is amazing in anything I see him in!

  4. Enjoy this one quite a bit. Refn is coming to the cinema at the university where I work in September and showing this, Only God Forgives and at least two others. Excited for that. Great review of his work.

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