Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen) the wild boyfriend of the original Pusher is the star of this sequel. Back in prison he gets some advice about facing fears and creating an image of himself but it doesn’t work out so well; he gets his ass kicked. After the opening titles Tonny is out in the real world again. He gets some work at his father (Leif Sylvester)’s shady chop shop garage but he can’t even do that right. Tonny’s luck isn’t much better with the ladies. Even prostitutes can’t get him off. Soon Tonny finds out that his ex-girlfriend Charlotte (Anne Sorensen) has had a child. There’s more stealing than dealing in Pusher II but drugs are always there. Along the way Tonny tries taking care of the baby. Bringing the tot along to a wedding/bachelor party while mom is snorting in the bathroom speaks volumes to what kind of parents these are. It hardly feels like a continuing story but more a spin-off with a supporting character. Mikkelsen makes Tonny look like a hopeless soul. He’s sad the whole time but in a pathetic way. He’s not expressing his feelings to anyone not chasing a better life just going through the same old motions. It looks like he’s about to weep but even that would take more effort than Tonny can muster. The women look lovely like exotic foreign models but they act like vulgar riff raff. Sorensen never makes you sympathize with her stranded as a single mother. Her friend played by Maria Erwolter seems to have a bit more hope for a happy life with a wedding but she deteriorates into the druggie cycle like the others. Sylvester plays dad as the most normal relatable character in the film. He may be a criminal but he’s still just a guy disappointed and frustrated with his loser son. Nicolas Winding Refn is still shooting his Pusher movies with handheld cameras so the shot is always bouncing around the action. Action could just mean people sitting around snorting up or whining because there is far less physical action in Pusher II. Near the beginning a botched car robbery leads to a big realistic car crash which looks like a random burst of violence coming out of nowhere to surprise the audience. Any other carnage is really just the protagonists attacking themselves. One of their tricks to stall for time is to pretend they’ve been shot or robbed so they shoot each other and trash their own place. Any mild tension created by the original Pusher’s selected acts of violence is lost. Maybe something was lost in translation. The beginning theme about overcoming fear and creating one’s own public myth never pays off. What was the point that Tonny didn’t do either? That he remained a pathetic loser? This could very well be the message of these downer films. Pusher II barely feels like a sequel.
Frank the drug dealer (Kim Bodnia) works the streets selling his wares. His friend Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen) is kind of the muscle but mainly the two just talk about sex while they wait for clients. This isn’t the eloquent funny sex talk of a Pulp Fiction. It’s the crude blatant lingo of real street thugs. No pop culture in this dialogue unless there’s a lot of Danish references we don’t get. Frank’s girlfriend Vic (Laura Drasbaek) is hooked as well and he provides the fix for the trio. But he owes Milo (Zlatko Buric) $50 000 and he’s fresh out of product. He gets enough from another source on credit to earn the money he owes Milo but a police bust leaves him with nothing before he can sell any. Frank spends the next week in a rush to pay off Milo. As the week goes on he gets more and more desperate as clients don’t pay him. Milo and his goon Radovan (Slavko Labovic) pursue Frank and even his closest friends prove untrustworthy. Every scheme he thinks of to get money or stall Milo backfires and the closer he gets to deadline the more violent everything becomes. Even though the opening of the Danish Pusher introduces each main character with an on-screen ID it’s still hard to tell them apart. That’s partly a language barrier since you can’t distinguish someone by their voice. And there are lots of guys with shaved heads. But after a good 45 minutes Bodnia as Frank distinguished himself and makes a gradual transition from indifferent to desperate. In the first half he seems like he’s sleepwalking like most street dealers probably are. Once things start going bad he conveys a human desperation that transcends the subtitles. Mikkelsen has a dangerous side that doesn’t get explored nearly enough in the film. He falls out of the story once Frank really goes after his own clients. Buric as Milo the head dealer is typically cooler than his underlings more sophisticated and dresses better. He’s nonchalant when he threatens Frank so you know he’s really the deadliest of all. In his first film Nicolas Winding Refn does a solid job holding the story together and showing he can do a well-worn genre with a bit of style. If made in English Pusher would at least be good enough for HBO so the art house circuit is a given. Most of the film is shot handheld which seems to be a filmmakers’ go-to trick to make things feel “real.” But while many filmmakers go overboard shaking things so much that nobody’s vision actually looks that jumpy Refn keeps it under control keeping everything important in the frame so you can still see everyone. The violence is explosive not outlandish but exciting. When the characters become so desperate they have no other choice but to start pulling out guns. There are no epic shootouts--just bang bang get away which makes those few moments tense. You don’t know who’s going make it. But while the dealer’s perspective is different it’s still not as interesting as users’ films such as Trainspotting or Requiem for a Dream. It’s more like a TV show the daily grind of being a pusher. There are two more films in the trilogy so perhaps we’ll see just how tense things get for these characters moving forward.