Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn's Pusher films are brilliant, bleak tales of wheeler-dealers each having a run of bad luck in Copenhagen's sordid underworld. The trilogy, Pusher (1996), Pusher II (2004), and Pusher III (2005), focuses on three separate protagonists (shown in photo), with some lead and supporting characters appearing in more than one. The films take dirty realism to a new dirtier level, with extreme violence and very little humor, dark or otherwise, and the final installment ending with perhaps the most grisly scene I've ever watched. But Refn's trilogy is more than just scumbag thrillers and savage megalomaniacs in a game of survival of the severest; Frank, Tonny, and Milo are at critical points in their criminal careers, and due to circumstances beyond their control (all three cases involving a bungled drug deal), they're forced to either fight or flee to survive. What for the most part goes unsaid, but Refn captured visually, is each protagonist's hunger to climb out of the abyss and leave behind the senselessness of their world. But not quite yet—they must appear as if they're in control, of themselves and of others. They must contain their desperation. They can't let out they've had enough, lest the other sharks get a whiff of their fear and tear them apart. And so these cornered rats make for compelling narratives, blending the conflicts of man vs. man and man vs. self.
I doubt I'll watch the trilogy again. The violence, particularly in Pusher III, stays with you. The acting is way above par in all three. Kim Bodnia, Mads Mikkelsen, and Zlatko Burić are equally outstanding, though Burić stands out for the unswerving realism throughout his performance. I'd seen Refn's Drive (2011), with Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan, but nothing else directed by him. I've now added Refn's Bleeder (1999) and Fear X (2003) to my list.