The Pusher series is more akin to an incredible TV show than a cinematic trilogy like The Godfather or Lord of the Rings or even Star Wars (fuck those prequels). A lot of times these things have pretty grand scales to them. The Pushers go the other way and use a stripped down production that focuses entirely on character with minimal effects and action.
Pusher 2 is all about Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale (2006))), Frank’s friend and partner from the first film. He’s fresh out of jail and decides to hook up with his father, who’s a crime boss that runs a chop shop, to get on the payroll. Tonny is a fuckup though and even when he tries to do something nice like steal a Ferrari his old man gets pissed because it’s too high profile. The father keeps giving him chances to redeem himself and I think in his heart he wants his son to be a good criminal but Tonny doesn’t make it easy. The relationship they have is totally fucked up and now that I’m thinking about it every relationship that Tonny has it fucked up. I mean he had a baby with this hooker and you think that maybe this is what’s going to turn him around and either make him go straight or at least mature into a proper mobster like his father. But Tonny goes back and forth about wanting to take on the responsibility of having a kid. He’s not ready to settle down but at the same time he knows deep down that he’s not great at being a gangster.
Pusher 3 turns our attention to Milo, Frank’s old supplier. We open with him at a drug counseling meeting. He admits that he’s an addict and that he’s only been sober for a couple of days. At first I thought this was a trick or a dream or something. I never would’ve thought that Milo would change like this and try to get himself straight. Fortunately we learn immediately after this scene that he still deals drugs. Now that’s what I’m talking about. This is fucking fantastic writing from Refn to have Milo want to get off drugs himself but not even think twice about giving up pushing them on others. Having him be this hypocritical makes him seem like even more of a scumbag (and in his case that’s a good thing, I love the idea).
Milo ends up scoring some ecstasy, which he doesn’t deal in, so he tries to find out what happened to his heroin shipment and how to get rid of the pills. We also find out that it’s his daughter’s birthday and that he needs to cook for 50 people. So Milo’s really stressed out. And don’t forget on top of all of this he’s trying to stay sober. What I found particularly interesting and sad about Milo’s situation is that he can’t even tell his men that he’s quitting drugs. Instead when he goes to the drug counseling he tells them that he’s going to get a haircut. Milo can’t bring himself to ask for help or understanding from his guys because he knows that they’ll think he’s gone soft and try to either muscle him out or kill him.
The whole movie takes place over the course of one day and that day is probably the worst in Milo’s life. Most of the time it moves kinda slow but towards the end it suddenly kicks into high gear and all at once Milo and the audience find themselves in a situation seemingly without an exit. And I say “the audience” because I was with Milo the entire time. I fucking love this character with all of his charisma and sliminess. This installment gives us a great Milo story because on one hand I don’t want to see him in such dire circumstances but on the other what happens to him and how he reacts is part of what makes him the fucking man, he won’t take shit from nobody.
All of the Pushers end on cliffhangers, really fucking good cliffhangers, making them feel even more like a TV show. I wondered for days after seeing each of the three films what was going to happen to these characters. The ending to Pusher 3 is particularly badass and a real nasty way to cap the series. I really wish I could talk about it but it’s way better if you just go into it without knowing anything.
The completely unresolved endings might make you throw up your arms and wonder how a filmmaker can just say “stop” at such a crucial moment but it totally works. It makes the whole thing feel like just a sliver of something much bigger. The cliffhangers lend a sense of weight and realism to the characters and their situations. And come to think of it I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that’s not part of a series where the filmmakers knew there would be sequels that leaves the main plot completely up in the air when the credits roll. Maybe there’ll be a hint that another escapade lies ahead like in the first Back to the Future (the “to be continued” at the end of the VHS version was put there as a joke unknowing that there would be sequels) or even Deep Rising but the immediate adventure is always wrapped up. With these movies Refn decides to call it quits right at the moment when he knows you’re the most emotionally invested. It may be dirty but it’s very effective.
While the first Pusher had a bit (just a bit) more of a cinematic feel the sequels seem more like documentaries. I believed these characters were real and this is the huge and dangerous world they live in. Everything just seems so organic. The flow of the story and the character development feels natural. This is due to Refn taking his time and having you get to know these guys so when shit goes down you care, you care hard. I was hanging on every word. I loved tagging along with these characters and getting a nice long glimpse into their lives.
As for which picture is the best, I’m gonna cop out and say that they’re all pretty equal. The first one is certainly the most even paced and you could argue that it has the most tension. After that it actually doesn’t matter a whole lot which sequel you see first because the two stories don’t link up. I mean there is one thing that connects them (which means that for the timeline of the movies the events in Pusher 2 did occur before Pusher 3) but you won’t get lost. The second one is interesting because even though Tonny isn’t the most likeable character I found myself being with him and wanted to see him get his life together. That one also has the best soundtrack. But I think I’m kinda partial to the third one. It features the best character between the three and again, that ending is pretty fucking cool.
Now that I’ve seen all three these films remind me of Oz with the feel, lingo, pacing, variety of characters and evolving story line. They’re not action movies but character studies so if you’re looking for shootouts and nonstop fist fights you’re in the wrong place. They’re truly an accomplishment and one of the best series’ of films I’ve ever seen. It was smart to focus on different characters for the sequels instead of just continuing Frank’s storyline. I don’t know if Refn has thought about doing any more of these, especially now that it’s been a while and he’s much more sought after because of Drive, but I’m definitely up for more. He really knows what he’s doing guys. You’ve got to check these out.
Oh and happy New Year. Thanks to anyone who reads this shit that I post. I meant for this little slice of internet to be a place where we could talk about movies that we like or don’t like, give recommendations and feel okay admitting that we like to watch some sappy shit like Dr. Zhivago, some kiddy shit like Faerie Tale Theater, some girly shit like Cinderella, some musical shit like Yankee Doodle Dandy or even some inexplicable shit like Rhinestone every once in a while. Again, thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it. There’s plenty of good, bad and ugly shit to talk about in the New Year, see you guys then.