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Pusher Is Great, II and III are Oedipal excellence
on November 13, 2006
It's true, we've all seen crimes-go-wrong scenarios before. However, writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn does a wonderful job of focusing his camera on single characters in each film and bringing out the drama of crooks and pushers getting in over their head in some of the worst days of their lives.
In Pusher, drug middleman Frank tries to sort out a mess when he winds up owing too much to local drug kingpin Milo.
Pusher II plays like an Oedipal tragedy minus the mom, with Frank's friend Tonny taking center stage. Tonny gets out of jail and tries to ingratiate himself into the crime business of his cruel father with predictably disastrous results.
Pusher III returns to Milo, an important character in each of the previous films, as he ages and is challenged by new blood in the drug business and new challenges as he negotiates his daughter's 25th birthday party, her wanting to get in on the action, bad drug deals, prostitution and murder.
All three films play perfectly together, with recurring characters, similar themes and believable violence. The criminals are humanized in a way that doesn't let audiences off the hook, as with Trainspotting's reluctantly violent druggies. These are the dealers with cool heads who have chosen this line of work and do terrible things. Yet, at the end of the day or week, Winding Refn has let us walk in their shoes enough to see the fallibility and humanity in what 90 minutes before we might have regarded as unconscionable evil. If you want to sympathize with these characters, you'll have to admit you see a little darkness in yourself, too.
P.S. The tale of how Pusher II and III came to be is almost as cool as the films. It's covered in the documentary Gambler here, which follows him and his associates as they struggle to put together funding for the two films, not to get paid, but just to break even and climb out of moviemaking bankruptcy. Also cool are two featurettes explore how Winding Refn picked amateurs or almost-amateurs for most of the gritty roles in the last two films.