Sunday, May 15, 2016
      ( 2:17 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Bad luck and incompetence may combine to make a really bad week. A drug dealer named Frank in Nicolas Winding Refn's 1996 film Pusher finds himself in a perfect storm as multiple accumulated bad decisions abruptly come crashing down on his head. He finds himself desperately bullying his way through the Copenhagen criminal underground in this nicely brutal piece of gangster cinema.

My exposure to Nicolas Winding Refn's films as so far been from within the past ten years--Valhalla Rising, Drive, and Only God Forgives. So after those extremely stylised films of carefully composed artificial lighting, frequent slow motion, and deliberately glacial acting, it was surprising to find he'd begun with such a naturalistic film. Maybe not too surprising given it's harder to make the kind of carefully constructed art pieces of those later films on an indie beginner's budget. And there are some scenes in Pusher, particularly in bars and nightclubs, that seem to presage the director's current stylistic predilections.

Here a woman at the bar rebuffs some crude, rough flirtations from Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen) while Frank (Kim Bodnia) covers his face in laughter. A moment later, the two men kiss on the lips, the two having a closer relationship than either has with any of the women in their lives. Tonny describes pissing on a girl's face in a car ride while Frank talks now and then about Vic (Laura Drasbaek), a prostitute he stays with but doesn't like to have sex with.

Whether or not there's repressed homosexuality beneath the drug addled machismo is never explicitly addressed because most of the movie is about Frank desperately trying to collect debts from buyers after a deal goes bad and he finds himself suddenly owing a massive amount of money to his supplier.

I don't know anything about being a drug dealer but it seems to me Frank is extraordinarily bad at it. He's apparently given drugs to all kinds of people on credit. When he goes to deliver on the big deal that goes wrong, he just gets into the car with the prospective buyer, unarmed, and carrying the drugs. It's no wonder he finds himself in hot water. I said he had bad luck, but thinking about it now, it's a wonder he's lived this long.

Mind you, this isn't a criticism of the movie but of the character. Frank's incompetence is a wonderful source of tension. He, Tonny, and Vic are all characters with that sense of addicts who simultaneously put everything on the surface and suppress everything. Vic talks about how she's not a whore but a "champagne girl" and how she could do anything she wants but she just doesn't want to.

Winding Refn is often--and justifiably (as he is apparently first to admit)--criticised for not writing women as effectively as he writes men. But the pretty standard concept of the deluded prostitute takes on plenty of life thanks to the naturalistic lighting and Laura Drasbaek's portrayal of the character whom she infuses with a very credible vulnerable obstinacy.

But it's Frank's misguided belief in his own strength that's centre stage here. As we watch him make one obviously bad decision after another, usually involving him beating someone or begging for money with a stone face, we wonder how on Earth he expects this to work while finding it absolutely believable that he does.

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