Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pusher (Nicolas Winding Refn, 1996) -- C+

It's difficult to place Pusher within the action canon in 2011, seeing how so many films have imitated, borrowed, or straight-up stolen from Nicolas Winding Refn's neo-neorealist crime feature debut. From Snatch to Gomorrah, the film's influence may run nearly as deep as Pulp Fiction, informing both form and content. Unfortunately, Refn's interests are only slightly more sophisticated and relevant than many of his imitators. In chronicling the petty drug pushing of two Copenhagen hoods, Refn's immediate interests are characterized less by a hypocritical examination of will-to-power (the subgenre's staple approach) than an exploration of fragile masculinity, bordering on outright crisis. Frank (Kim Bodnia) and Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen) assert their sexual dominance via discussions of orgy dick-sucking, butt-fucking, and past instances where they had to "fuck someone up" for flirting/fooling around with their girlfriends. These early scenes are strong, almost satirical in their awareness of the genre norm. Moreover, by refraining from ironic detachment (unlike cinematic tumor Guy Ritchie), there's a degree of sincerity driving these scenes towards humanist revelation. However, that tract becomes lost less than halfway in, once Refn begins to pile on the cliches of undercover cops, snitching, drug use, and bursts of graphic violence, all filtered through the "gritty, realist" aesthetic (how depressingly literal), wrapped up in a world at once reviled and admired. Refn loses interest in progressive genre critique and, by the film's end, is more part of the problem than subversive visionary.

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