Made in: Denmark
Language: Danish
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Kim Bodnia, Zlatko Buric, Laura Drasbæk, Slavko Labovic, Mads Mikkelsen
Year: 1996

Synopsis: Frank (Kim Bodnia) is a lowlife drug dealer who spends all his time hanging out with his scummy loser pal Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen) and junkie/stripper girlfriend Vic (Laura Drasbæk).

When Frank screws up a major heroin deal, the proceeds from which were supposed to pay off a large debt to his drug supplier friend Milo (Zlatko Buric), Frank finds himself scrambling all over Copenhagen to collect from all the junkies who still owe him.

The debt is large, and so is Milo's right-hand man Radovan (Slavko Labovic) who'll be obliged to make Frank's life even more miserable if the debt isn't covered in a week.

The Good: Pusher has a gritty, dark, and a very raw, realistic look. The actors are all superb, and during the much stronger second half, this foreign film will give plenty of reasons why you should never do drugs.

Frank's downward spiral is oddly compelling, as his deluded sense of self-importance only reinforces the fact that he's no better, and in as much trouble, as the street scum who owe him.

Those who promised Frank money last week only have excuses...the same worthless ones that he himself offers to Milo. I suppose one of the main messages of the film is that crime doesn't pay...literally.

Everyone owes someone else, who in turn, owes the drug dealer who's higher up on the food chain. With an economic system supported by half-coherent slacker addicts, it's amazing that anyone in the drug underworld can make money at all.

Throughout Pusher I found myself rooting for Frank to pay off his debt, and at the same time, hoping to see him fail.

Perhaps that was part of director Nicolas Winding Refn's goal: to give his viewers a taste of the sort of nihilism prevalent in the dirty realm of drugs, junkies, and baseball bats.

The Bad: The hand-held camera-work, although successful in achieving the "documentary look," nearly induces motion sickness. It's not quite on par with The Blair Witch Project but still, they could have toned it down a bit.

The first half of the movie is hard to watch, as it mostly involves Kim Bodnia and Mads Mikkelsen engaging in obscene conversation and generally acting like idiots as they go to bars and other places. It got to the point where I nearly turned the movie off.

General observation: Of all the foreign languages I've encountered so far, Danish has been the hardest one for me to keep up with. Being familiar with German, I was able to pick out a few words here and there.

But overall Danish seems to have such a strange rhythm that it took me a while to get used to hearing it while keeping up with the subtitles.

Who would like this movie: You'll enjoy Pusher if you like extremely depressing indie drug movies that involve people finding new methods of screwing up their lives in spectacular ways.

This film was the first major feature directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. If not for the cringe-inducing first half, I'd give this movie a higher recommendation.

(2 and 1/2 stars out of 4)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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