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Film / Pusher

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Pusher is a Danish crime film written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, and starring Kim Bodnia, Zlatko Burić, and Laura Drasbæk. It also marked Mads Mikkelsen's film debut. In 1996, a Danish crime film was quite novel, and its popularity had a great influence on Danish films to follow. In this respect, it was something akin to the Pulp Fiction of Denmark. Two sequels, filmed back-to-back, followed almost ten years later to rescue Refn's ailing film company from bankruptcy. Each sequel follows a different character introduced in the first film.

The first film follows Frank (Bodnia), a mid-level Copenhagen drug dealer. After a drug deal gone bad, Frank finds himself deeply in debt to Milo (Burić), a local Serbian drug lord. As Frank struggles to find the money, he must also grapple with complications from his would-be girlfriend (Drasbæk) and the dubious loyalty of his partner, Tonny (Mikkelsen).

The second film, released in 2004, picks up with Tonny after he completes a prison sentence and returns to his estranged father's chop shop. Tonny struggles to earn his father's respect in the underworld and be there for his own son.

The third film, released in 2005, follows a day in the life of Milo, who struggles with preparations for his overbearing daughter's birthday while fending off Albanian drug dealers and his own lurking addiction.

An English version of the first film was released in 2012, to little fanfare.

The series provide examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: In the second film, we have two examples: Tonny's dad, the Duke, and Tonny's baby mama, Charlotte. The former is a cold, uncaring crime lord who continues to be openly abusive towards Tonny. Charlotte meanwhile is negligent towards her infant son, who remains unnamed despite being nine months old. She doesn't seem to feel any affection for the boy and openly speaks about him being an inconvenience. A depressing sequence later in the film shows her abandoning the poor kid in a crowded bar so she can do lines of coke in the backroom with her girlfriends.
  • Affably Evil: Milo and Radovan in the first film. Milo cooks for Frank and Radovan shares a pleasant conversation with him. Once they're crossed, however, the affability quickly vanishes.
  • The Aggressive Drug Dealer: In Pusher 3 Kurt insists that Milo take some heroin, knowing that Milo is a recovering addict. He does this in vengeance for Milo's actions in the second film.
  • Archnemesis Dad: the Duke to Tonny in 2. Despite this, the Duke loves his younger son, Valdemar, enough to ask Tonny to kill Valdemar's mother, who wants full custody of him Of course, that is partly because the Duke's brother vouches for Tonny.
  • Ascended Extra: The short weight-lifter in the first film is promoted to Milo's future son-in-law in the third film. Branko, one of Milo's various hoods, is promoted to his dragon in the third film, though he drops out midway through the film.
  • Badass Decay: A major theme in Pusher III. Milo has gotten older and fatter and is losing his game. After leaving crime and opening his dream restaurant, Radovan has stopped working out and gained some weight, though he still knows what to do with a corpse.
  • Bald of Evil: It seems like this with Tonny, but is ultimately averted, especially with Pusher 2. Not so much for Kurt and Radovan.
  • Ballistic Discount: In the English remake, Frank buys a gun and a box of bullets from the trunk of a man's car, then sticks him up for all the money he's carrying.
  • Batter Up!: Frank takes a baseball bat to the head of Tonny, after a cop tells him that Tonny ratted him out. Tonny doesn't show up again until the sequel, with some nasty cranial scars.
  • Being Evil Sucks: A reoccurring theme in all three films. The criminal lifestyle is consistently portrayed as being bleak and glamourless. Frank lives in a cruddy, dimly-lit apartment and ekes out a meager living in the precarious field of drug-dealing. It only gets worse for him from there.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The ending of Pusher 2, in which Tonny has killed his evil father and left Copenhagen with his son. Although Tonny has almost no resources and little money, he's rescued his son from Charlotte and is determined to be a good father. There's a visual similarity between Tonny and his son's bare heads, emphasizing that this is a rebirth for both of them. Tonny's son won't be growing up in the dismal criminal underworld and Tonny is leaving his life of crime crime behind for good.
  • Big Bad Friend: Frank believes Tonny to be this, but it is most likely averted and just a product of Frank's paranoia.
  • Blood-Splattered Wedding Dress: A mild example when Gry gets a nosebleed from doing too much cocaine, and the blood ends up on her wedding dress.
  • Butt-Monkey:
    • In the second film, Tonny is treated with varying degrees of contempt by everyone he knows. His estranged father, the Duke, especially dislikes him.
    • Milo in Pusher 3. At the start, he can't catch a break, but then the Albanians begin to treat him like shit after Muhammed steals the ecstasy.
  • Call-Back: Pusher 3 contains a lot of call backs to Pusher and Pusher 2: Milo using his Catchphrase "You're f**king me" before torturing a victim, the bodybuilder Frank robs returns as Milena's boyfriend, Milo's bad cooking, Radovan has his own restaurant after quitting the gangster life just like he told Frank he wanted, Valdemar's mother has upgraded to a madame, and some of the Duke's cronies now work for Milo.
  • Cerebus Callback: Milo's bad cooking causes the food poisoning that causes the problematic situation to escalate into a crisis. The fate of the Albanian mobsters illustrates what might have been Frank's fate as Radovan was last seen in the first film rolling plastic on the floor.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Eventually Milo and Radovan resort to torturing Frank. In Pusher 3, Milo re-enlists Radovan for one last job to torture a captive.
  • Cool Uncle: Tonny's uncle Red is much friendlier than Tonny's father and even vouches for Tonny at one point.
  • Corrupt Cop: A cop on Milo's payroll catches Muhammed.
  • Country Matters: Tonny has the misfortune of getting entangled with a particularly worthless pimp named "Kurt the Cunt" (Kusse-Kurt in Danish). Truth in Television, as this was the actor's real nickname. The director met him while researching a 12 step program.
  • Daddy's Little Villain: In Pusher 3, we discover that Milo's daughter clearly wears the pants in the family. She barks orders at her flustered father during her birthday celebration. When she discovers that Milo is forcing her boyfriend to buy his heroin for distribution, she tells her father to lower his price. What a family!
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: Intentionally averted, as Winding Refn has always stated that he never wanted to glamorize the underworld. Most of the pushers and thugs live shabby, desperate lives. Even Milo, the bigshot crimelord, lives in an average-looking villa with a decaying pool.
  • Death by Irony: In the climax of the second film, Tonny is reluctant to carry out a murder on the behalf of his father, the Duke. When he reveals that he didn't go through with the deed, the Duke berates him for not being man enough for the task. After sustaining this kind of abuse for the entire film, Tonny snaps and kills his father in a fit of patricidal rage. Also counts as a Karmic Death, given that the Duke wanted his ex-wife dead so he could have full custody of Valdemar, which ultimately results in her being the boy's sole guardian.
  • Demoted to Extra: Milo only pops in for a scene in the second film, though he majorly screws over Tonny and Kurt in the process. Kurt only pops in for a single scene in the third film, though he majorly screws over Milo in the process.
  • The Dog Bites Back:
    • After a lifetime of abuse from his father, Tonny lashes out and kills him. Tonny also stands up to his baby mama Charlotte by rescuing their infant son from her.
    • In the third film, Milo gets fed up with Rexho and his polish pimp friend treating him like shit and literally drops the hammer on them.
  • Downer Ending: Pusher ends with Frank stranded in Copenhagen with no friends or resources, while his enemies poise to strike. Pusher 3 ends with Milo smoking silently beside his empty pool, having relapsed and sparked a deadly war with the Albanian gang.
  • Disposable Sex Worker:
    • In Pusher 2, Kurtkills a hooker in his home, tricking Tonny into being an accomplice. However, Tonny later refuses to kill his father's new wife, who is a brothel madam.
    • In Pusher 3, a polish pimp tries to sell his underaged prostitute to Charlotte. She tries to escape but is caught by the pimp with the help of Milo. Milo eventually frees her and kills her pimp.
  • Disposing of a Body: A particularly graphic example in the end of Pusher 3, where Milo gets Radovan to help him butcher some hoods for disposal.
  • The Dragon: Radovan for Milo in the first film. Branko in the third film, though he's out with food poisoning for most of the film. This prompts Radovan to make a spectacular return as a Torture Technician.
  • Dragon Their Feet: Milo's terrible cooking in the third film causes his whole gang to get food poisoning, leaving him to his own devices for the remainder of the film.
  • Dramatis Personae: Each film opens with a montage introducing the major characters, set to a pounding rock beat. Each character is harshly lit from above as they glare at the camera.
  • Driven to Suicide: In Pusher, the junkie that Radovan and Frank intimidate ends up shooting himself after attempting to hold them up with the shotgun.
  • Drop The Hammer: Milo drops the hammer in Pusher 3 after getting pushed too far by the pimp and Rexho.
  • Empathic Environment: The films start in relatively innocent and bright-looking (if not pretty) settings, usually set in the daylight. The climax of the films—and consequently the grimmest parts of the films—take place in dark places and in the dark of night. Especially enforced in Pusher III which takes place over the course of 24 hours.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Kusse Kurt demonstrates the kind of person he is in his first scene when he tells Tonny a horrible joke about him raping an underaged girl.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Tonny, but to what degree he could be considered actually "evil" is up to debate. Milo is not above torture and murder but when the pimp tortures the young prostitute, he finally snaps and kills the pimp. When it happens it's clearly a mix between parental instincts (as Milo is a father to a daughter) and a drugfueled rage that drives him over the edge.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Milo loves his daughter very much, and is clearly reluctant to let her and his son-in-law, Mike, in on his drug dealing business and wants to provide them by himself.
  • Evil Chef: Milo. His crime lair is a restaurant and he likes to feed his criminal associates his creations. He's actually a pretty terrible cook.
  • Fanservice / Fan Disservice: It's highly doubtful that you'll enjoy any scenes of nudity in these films.
  • Foreign Remake: A Hindi remake of Pusher was released in 2010 and a British one in 2012.
  • From Bad to Worse: Each film is a slow decline for the main character.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: There are no true heroes in the trilogy. Tonny is the lightest shade of all the protagonists in his film. His friend Ø is a criminal but one of the few people who is nice to Tonny and allows him to crash at his apartment.
  • Guns Akimbo: Frank is briefly seen holding two handguns after robbing the bodybuilder. He doesn't actually fire them though, it's just for intimidation.
  • Harmful to Minors: Pusher 2 has plenty of scenes where children are exposed to their parents swearing, smoking cigarettes, and doing drugs right in front of them. There's even a scene where the Duke's other son, Valdemar, joins the adults in watching a stripper, er, perform.
  • Hate Sink: As his nickname would suggest, Kurt is a nasty and unpleasant man.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Frank and Tonny. That is until Frank is fooled into believing that he has ratted him out to the police.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: While Vic doesn't really consider herself a prostitute, she's awfully patient and understanding with Frank, and tries to help him. But she's not a complete doormat—when Frank turns away and demeans her plan to escape to Barcelona, she takes his money and leaves.
  • Hope Spot: Frank gets a call from Milo telling him that everything'll be forgiven, given that Frank just comes back to him with all the money he can get. Of course, Frank ends up screwing himself over by losing both Vic and the money—and the kicker is that Milo never intended to let him go just like that.
  • Humiliation Conga: Essentially the whole of Pusher 2 is this for Tonny, where his attempts to move up in the criminal world are repeatedly shot down.
  • Insistent Terminology:
    • Frank's first buyer repeatedly asks to be called "Scorpion", apparently because he thinks it makes him sound tough. It doesn't.
    • Vic insists that she's not a prostitute, she's a high-class call girl. Frank doesn't see a difference.
  • Imagine Spot: At the end of Pusher we see visions of the possible options Frank is considering.
  • Karma Houdini: Kurt ultimately gets away with all the awful behavior he engages in in both the second and third movies.
  • Lethal Chef: The Evil Chef Milo accidentally gives his goons food poisoning with his cooking, leaving him to his own devices during a gang conflict.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: Tonny in Pusher 2, who's unable to get it up with two prostitutes.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Frank to Tonny in Pusher.
  • Manchild: Tonny's gaudy street apparel and mannerisms are more befitting of a rebellious teenager than the hardcore criminal he aspires to be. This becomes especially poignant in the second film where he's still acting like a tactless, dimwitted adolescent in spite of the fact that he's fast approaching his 40's and he has an infant son to look after. He gets better.
  • The Millstone: Kurt proves to be an even more incompetent crook than Tonny. After he destroys the drugs he was supposed to sell to Milo, he keeps making the situation worse by trying to cover up what happened and lying to the Duke, who he owes the money to. Had it not been for Tonny killing the Duke, Kurt's treachery would have almost certainly been discovered and he'd have paid for it with his life.
  • Offing the Offspring: Kurt's threat that the Duke would kill both him and Tonny is what makes Tonny realize that the person Kurt owes money to is the Duke - and that the Duke probably knew what kind of business Tonny was getting into by associating with Kurt, and just didn't care.
  • Oh, Crap!: Frank knows his predicament is about to get a lot worse when Milo asks "Are you fucking me?"
  • Patricide: After suffering a lifetime of abuse and ridicule from him, Tonny murders his father.
  • Retired Monster: Radovan actually did open up the pizza place he was telling Frank about in Pusher. Despite this, it doesn't stop Milo from dragging him back in for One Last Job.
  • Riddle for the Ages: In the first film, we never find out whether Tonny intentionally twisted his ankle to avoid accompanying Frank on the drug deal and whether he really did inform on Frank, as the police claim. The second film implies it genuinely was an accident, as he's never shown interacting with any cops or reaching out to them - even at times when it'd be strange for an informant not to do so (such as when his life is in danger due to Kurt's schemes).
  • Rotating Protagonist: The trilogy follows a different character in each film. Each protagonist is in all of the previous films and none of the following films.
  • Ruthless Foreign Gangsters: Milo and his gang of Serbians in the first film. In the third, Milo runs into an even worse gang of Albanians.
  • Satanic Archetype: Kurt acts as this during his one scene in the third movie. He appears when Milo is at a low point and tempts him with some free heroin, which Milo fails to resist. He's even wearing a sweatshirt with the numbers 666 on it.
  • Torture Technician: Radovan.
  • The Unfavorite: Tonny can do no right by his father, who lavishes affection on his other son, Valdermar.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Tonny's motivation in the second film.
  • Woman Scorned: After having the idea of a happy life away from all the troubles in Denmark dangled in front of her nose for too long, only to be ultimately snatched away, Vic finally decides to hell with Frank, grabs his money, and runs.