I’ve been living in Copenhagen for six months now. Having realised this, my best friend Mads slapped me round the face with a Nordic fish when I told him I hadn’t seen Drive director Refn’s debut feature film Pusher. Mads did the only thing possible, he bought me the DVD. I watched it.
Centred around the story of a drug pusher desperately trying to escape a rising debt to a Copenhagen drug baron, the film is brilliantly simply, unfussy and totally gripping. Filmed on a shoestring budget, the confrontational handheld camera work, fast cuts and local slang mould together to create something organically immersive.
Whether it’s Gosling as the Driver or Tom Hardy as prison battle-axe Bronson, Refn doesn’t really do conventionally likeable protagonists. With pusher Frank, he’s clearly an amoral man, but the sense of foreboding dread looming over his head is palpable and one can’t help longing for him to come up trumps with the money.
It might borrow a bit heavily from Scorsese’s plentiful representations of gangsta New York, and it might not have the strong aesthetic beauty of Refn’s later works. Regardless, seeing Pusher illustrates how capable the Danish-American director is creating gritty, red-blooded drama. Long may his harsh world live on.
PS – Following his recent successes, Refn holds an exec producer role in a vibrant, British revamping of Pusher due out later this year. It’ll be interesting to compare the two, especially here from a Danish perspective where the original is so highly regarded. Watch this durrty space.