Pusher II: With Blood On My Hands. 2004. Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn. Screenplay by Jens Dahl & Refn.
Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Leif Sylvester, Anne Sorensen, Oyvind Hagen-Traberg, Kurt Nielsen, Karsten Schroder, and Zlatko Buric.
Magnolia Home Entertainment
Not Rated. 100 minutes.
★★★★★ (DVD release)
Pusher II: With Blood On My Hands doesn’t pick up immediately after the first Pusher. We start later as Tonny (again played by the wonderful Mads Mikkelsen) is just about ready to get out of jail. He has clearly recovered from the merciless beating Frank gave him in the first movie. Now, as he gets out, we discover Tonny’s father happens to be a big figure in the Copenhagen crime world, known as The Duke (Leif Sylvester). Once out, we find Tonny is not respected by anybody particularly; most certainly not his father. They are estranged. The Duke even has a young son by another woman whom he clearly admires much more than his first son.
From the very start, Tonny is painted into a fairly pathetic type of figure. First, he can’t seem to get an erection while with two prostitutes, fresh out of jail; he’s promptly embarrassed by them, and leaves without getting off. Then, once he’s back in the company of his father and the old gang, we see nobody really thinks much of Tonny. On a job stealing cars, Tonny is forced to get a ride afterwards in the trunk of a van while everyone else sits inside. He can’t even go home all the way, only to the bus stop. It’s clear that everyone thinks Tonny is a bit of a joke. Everything is slowly going downhill for him. In this installment of Pusher, we watch Tonny try to hold onto anything he can while he struggles to find acceptance in his father, dealing with the unexpected pregnancy of a former girlfriend, and the ugly future ahead of him, as well as the rotten life in front of him.There’s even more grime on Pusher II than there was in the original film. Which is really awesome. Things feel even more seedy here in this one. Even just little throwaway moments work towards the gritty feeling. For instance, when Tonny goes up to talk with his father at one point at the Duke’s garage, a friend of his named Kurt is waiting downstairs with his daughter. While Tonny walks past, Kurt and a friend slyly go to another room for some drugs while his daughter is left standing there. A very brief, quick reminder that this side of Copenhagen is not any sort of glamorous side- we most certainly are in the gutter, in the ghettos, hanging amongst dealers and junkies and murders. Kurt also not much long after tells a filthy joke, and the fact he was just recently with his daughter makes it even worse – these people have no class whatsoever.
The best part of Pusher II is the fact we are able to dive deeper into this version of Copenhagen which Refn presents. It is a diverse and dark place. I really love it. Particularly, I really like how we get to see Tonny back. Not only that, we are able to get more of a look into him as a character. I thought he was finished at the end of the original film, honestly, the first time I saw it. So, to my surprise, this film gives us a lot more about Tonny to understand. The themes of the first Pusher continue on here, and we also get more on top: fatherhood, family, personal futures. And also what the drug life, living as a criminal, can do to all those things.
It’s very interesting watching Tonny try to navigate what is essentially a broken, and irreparable, life. He is a man with issues, and a ton of different problems in his life to try and solve. Throughout Pusher II: With Blood On My Hands it is amazing to watch Tonny on his journey and see exactly where he ends up. Although once again, it is not perfectly clear. I love how Refn puts things into ambiguous tones at the end of these first two instalments of Pusher.Again, we see the dirty and gritty side of the drug world in Copenhagen. In this second film, I think we really get to see even more of paranoia and underhandedness of the people involved deeply in the selling and taking of drugs. As an example, there’s a situation where Tonny and his friend Kurt go to a drug deal (a deal which is headed by Kurt – Tonny is only there to tag along). Kurt ends up flushing all of the drugs he just purchased when he believes the cops are at the door; it’s only another person from the deal. To get money back Kurt devises a plan. My point being – Kurt blames Tonny for being paranoid when it was in fact Kurt himself whose paranoia lead to the drugs being flushed. This is a perfect example of the hypocritical and nonsensical way in which drug people work. For those who’ve experienced the lifestyle, these are typical low-life types you come across who are into the hard stuff. It’s funny – Refn captures the life so well, all the crime, too. Yet he says he’s not even a crime buff. He really does the drug underworld well, I’ve got to say. Some of my favourite portrayals of the criminal drug enterprise on the street level.
Mads Mikkelsen’s really what sells Pusher II overall. The entire thing is a magnificent crime thriller, but he is the driving force. His central performance was very strong. If not, this would not have been as effective. You truly start to sympathize with Tonny. Even though we know what a real dirtbag and low-life guy he is, there’s still a strain of sympathy running throughout this film where you start to hope and pray Tonny eventually gets himself into a better way of life. It’s one of those Taxi Driver-like character studies where you can see the anger and tension slowly building inside the protagonist; at one point, Tonny sits alone on a train, and you can almost watch the emotions swell up in him, ready to overflow. A great performance in every way by Mikkelsen. Could never ask for any better.The film itself is certainly 5 stars. This trilogy overall is one of the best trilogies I’ve ever seen. Probably the best – in fact, I’m going to go ahead and say that – the Pusher trilogy is my favourite trilogy ever made. There. It has everything. This film really helps to make the trilogy get better as it progresses. Themes here once again overlap into the third, but yet that one also develops its own. I can’t get enough. Even the music – each of these films has a great soundtrack, a lot of amazing electronic music spiced with a few heavier metal-like tunes. It really helps set the mood. Tons of catchy tunes that will have you bobbing your head while saying “god damn this movie is cool”. Refn is really the king of the throwback electro-feel in his films, as far as the scores and soundtracks go. I always love a film that has a perfect sound along with it because that’s just another level it raises the entire production; the bar goes higher with every aspect in line and in tune with the overall aesthetic. The gritty look of all three Pusher films really works with the music in each of them. Hallmark of a great filmmaker, as far as I’m concerned. Many of the greats, though diverse, often have a certain sound you can associate with them; everybody from Kubrick to Scorsese to Altman to Spielberg. And Refn is certainly lining up to be one of those filmmakers.
The DVD release is great. Just as the other discs have some fun special features, this one has a few that are really worth the time. There is some nice commentary here by Refn. I love listening to his thoughts on everything from filmmaking to more specifically Danish cinema; he is a real fresh and unique talent in the film world. Also, there is a feature on both this film and the third Pusher involving casting Refn did on the street. Pretty awesome stuff to watch. Great independent film once again by Refn, building up a crime world of his own, or more so his vision of the one he knows in Denmark.
Overall, Pusher II: With Blood On My Hands is a fantastic addition to Refn’s trilogy of Danish crime films. Get into these films. They’re remarkable, and without having giant, ridiculous budgets. Incredibly real, tense, and life-like drama inside what we perceive as a typical crime film, however, this is so much more. Refn and Mikkelsen together are a great team, as they proved later with Valhalla Rising – another favourite of mine. Watch the first one, see the second one, and then get into the third. These are well-done films. So well-done in fact it is very hard to really rank them. Absolutely the best trilogy of films there is in my book. Hands down.