Arriving some eight years after Pusher, Nicolas Winding Refn revisits the dour environs of Copenhagen for the second film in his trilogy, Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands. For this installment, he picks up with Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen); the former best friend of Frank (our protagonist from the first film), just as he's being released from prison.
Looking quite a bit more dim than he did in Pusher (anyone who has seen that film knows the reason), Tonny heads straight to see his father, Smeden (Leif Sylvester), hoping to work for him in order to pay off an outstanding debt owed to a former cellmate. His father's reception of him is, let's just say, less than ecstatic, but he begrudgingly allows him to take part in the family's car theft business.
Pusher II doesn't have Tonny actively dealing drugs like the other leads in the series, although he does help his friend Kurt (Kurt Nielsen) in an ill-advised deal with Milo (the great Zlatko Buric, revisiting his role from the first film). There still is quite a lot of drug abuse in the film. Tonny uses cocaine and other substances liberally throughout it, as do his friends and the mother of his infant son; a child that Tonny denies siring.
Exploiting those layers, Refn has his troubled character struggling against assuming a parental role at the same time that he's dealing with his own father's disapproval. To further exacerbate his daddy issues, Tonny has a much younger stepbrother and a best friend that Smeden favors over him.
The nice thing about this trilogy of films is that you can drop in on any of them without needing to see the other films in the series. Having said that, the manner in which the supporting characters of one film morph into the focus of a subsequent chapter only adds incentive to watch them in sequence.
But, if you can only catch one of the three, the second feature is the one to see. Mikkelsen portrays Tonny here as an injured animal, woefully damaged but not beyond redemption, albeit redemption of a most compromised order. In this second swing at setting a story in his version of Copenhagen, Refn aims to tell a far more nuanced and universally applicable narrative; the second time's absolutely the charm.
Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands will screen at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on March 9th at 9pm & March 10th at 7pm. The film is part of the retrospective series, Driven: The Films of Nicolas Winding Refn.
The Films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Pusher
The Films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Pusher III: I'm the Angel of Death
The Films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Fear X
The Films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Drive
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