Hugely successful in it's native country last year (and second only to Mission: Impossible at the box office), Nicolas Winding Refn's Pusher can be best described as a Danish Mean Streets. Like Scorsese's early classic, Refn's film revels in grey-hued sleaziness, portraying a side of Copenhagen (where the film is set) that you won't find in any holiday brochure.
It's here that we meet Frank (Kim Bodnia), a drug pusher who loves his job and the money it provides him with to eat in posh restaurants and drink Armagnac with his partner-in-crime Tony (Mads Mikkelsen). Both work for Milo (Zlato Buric). Suddenly Frank's idyllic world is shattered when a major drugs deal, one he promises will settle all his debts, goes horribly wrong, leading to Frank not only losing the money and dope, but getting busted too. Eventually set free, but not off the hook, Frank becomes a hunted man with Milo, who now wants his money back, hot on his tail.
Up until the bungled drugs deal, Pusher ran the risk of becoming a bit of a bore. This section, shot in a briskly edited, fly-on-the-wall style that covers a couple of days in the lives of Frank and Tony as they work, rest and play, is fascinating - up to a point. However, once the plot kicks in, the film finds its narrative feet and turns into a demented rush of action, as Frank (an excellent and edgy performance from Bodnia) desperately scours the streets to make back the money he owes, narrowly avoiding the cops and Milo's hitman. Imagine that five minute sequence in GoodFellas, where Ray Liotta is frantically searching for some dope, stretched out to about an hour, and you've got the second half of Pusher. Reach that point and it becomes totally gripping, refusing to let up on the tension until the cleverly cruel and very ironic conclusion.
While Pusher may be uncomfortable to watch, and is clearly a film of two halves, it is nevertheless an impressive debut from 26 year-old Refn. Hollywood has already bought the rights for what will doubtless be a watered-down remake. Do yourself a favour and take a sniff of the real stuff first.
There's something rotten in Denmark, as Mean Streets meets GoodFellas in Copenhagen, and while it could never rival either of the above, this striking, powerfully gritty tale about a week in the life of a drug dealer is still well worth seeing. A promising debut.