‘Pusher 3’ (full title: ‘I’m the Angel of Death AKA Pusher 3’) offers more of the same, pulling tight focus on Serbian drug kingpin Milo (Zlatko Buric), the chillingly affable hood who Frank owed in I and cameoed in a pivotal scene in II. He cuts a less commanding figure here, however, as the stresses stack up. Over the course of a day we see him simultaneously grappling with kicking heroin, a misdelivered batch of ecstasy tablets, henchmen who are literally shitting their pants, vicious Albanian gangsters, not to mention cooking for his beloved daughter’s twenty-fifth birthday party.
It’s occasionally over-contrived, but you rarely notice as scenes segue so slickly together, tangling Milo in a web from which it’s impossible to escape. Like a hungry vulture, Refn’s handheld camera circles him as he flounders, awaiting the inevitable breakdown. And when it comes, it’s unspeakably gruesome: suffice to say there’s a series of scenes that takes the films’ stripping of humanity to its horribly logical conclusion. ‘Pusher’ couldn’t be a more apt title. By pushing his characters to breaking point, Refn exposes the fear, exertion and dismalness at the heart of their gangster lives. For the ageing Milo, it’s a daily battle to maintain his authority and the rewards barely seem worth the effort. There are no fast cars, big houses or gorgeous girls here (even guns are conspicuous by their absence), only a not-so-comfortable middle-class existence.
A clockwork determinism makes the ‘Pusher’ series work so well – events pinball, taking you off on imaginary tangents and giving the films a life beyond themselves. Each entry glides to an ending of profound uncertainty: when Milo gets home from his night of hell in ‘Pusher 3’, you know there can only be awful consequences to what he’s done but, for now in the dawn light, all is eerily calm. You’re left deeply uneasy, yet longing for more. Roll on ‘Pusher 4’.