Pusher (Denmark 1996, 105 min, dir: Nicolas Winding Refn, cast: Kim Bodina, Laura Drasbaek, Zlatko Buric )
Frank (Kim Bodina) loses the dope, is broke, and the drug boss Milo (Zlatko Buric) wants his money. What else is new in the underworld? But Pusher is a breakthrough movie. When it was made, well before Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s film,21 Grams, Brian De Palma’s Scarface was still the model for a pusher movie.
Pusher built the genre in a different direction. Dope dealer Frank is not misunderstood or charmingly lethal. He is just a nice average guy trying to dig himself out of a hole that keeps getting deeper while Vic, the girl who loves him (Laura Drasback), stands by hoping he’ll figure it out.
Refn creates a documentary style to follow the action in long takes and subjective pans to cover dialogue between characters. If it looks familiar now, it is because half a dozen TV police shows use it. His inspiration was not police stories, it was horror movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre he watched as a child.
The director’s genius is building off-beat characters that start out unlikeable and slowly make us warm to them as they struggle but miss all chances at redemption. Pusher, Pusher 2, Pusher 3 and Drive follow this model.
Best to see all of these together. They offer lessons in cinema style as well as consistent character development. Drive is an American movie (MovieWithMe) but it follows the same rules of Refn’s view of characters: the arc goes through thwarted expectations to thwarted resolution.
This single-minded vision is probably what has protected Refn in the transition to Hollywood films. It is also what probably got him thrown out of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts when he threw a table at the wall in an argument with a teacher.