Author: Tim Price
Accent Film help familiarise us with the early work of one of the rising stars of world cinema with a Blu-Ray release of Nicolas Winding Refn’s 1996 gangster film Pusher.
Now best known by international audiences for his stylish work like Drive and Only God Forgives, Nicolas Winding Refn first emerged as a wunderkind with the 1996 film Pusher, the first instalment in what would become a trilogy of gangster movies. Based in Copenhagen, Pusher follows a week in the life of Frank, a drug dealer whose problems start to add up at a rate that would make Jay-Z blush. Refn introduces us to Frank as a relatively harmless and unambitious street-level drug dealer who seems to be happy as long as he’s eating and drinking, or hanging around with his goofy enforcer Tonny. In fact, nothing much happens in the early stages of the film, and Refn is quite comfortable with us just observing Frank’s relatively unspectacular life until a botched drug deal results in him getting busted by the police and losing a large amount of ‘brown sugar’ in a lake. The story really kicks off from this point, and it is tense and exciting for the rest of its running time.
Those familiar with gangster films won’t find anything unique about the narrative of Pusher, however it is still compelling largely due to Refn’s dedication to realism and the believability of his characters. Unlike many American gangster films, whose slick-talking antiheroes are often impressive but untouchable, the characters in Pusher feel real; they’re vulnerable, they sense fear, they talk about which Scandinavian celebrities they’d like to sleep with and they enjoy baking (albiet poorly). The characters do terrible things to each other throughout the film, however they remain deserving of empathy mainly because it’s clear that they’ve been backed into a corner and are primarily just trying to protect themselves. Refn skips past making judgements on his characters and creates a film that is more about how we survive than how we should live.
If its a sign of a good showman to leave the audience wanting more, then Refn displayed that he was a master showman with Pusher. It’s definitely deserving of a viewing, and I’m personally really looking forward to catching up with the rest of the trilogy (and to a lesser extent, the 2012 British remake).
Despite being a Blu-Ray release, it’d be hard to separate this one from a DVD transfer of the movie. This is largely forgivable though as the film was shot in a short space of time with only handheld digital cameras. The picture is grainy and the colours are dull and unspectacular, but this only compliments the gritty, realistic aura that permeates the film.
Presented in Dolby 2.0 audio, sound doesn’t really ever take centre stage in Pusher, a decision which is difficult to criticise because the reliance on largely diegetic sound helps add to the film’s realism. It is worth mentioning, though, that due to a couple of scenes taking place in underground raves, the music that’s featured in the film helps timestamp the mid-90s on it in a big way.