The simultaneous release of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher Trilogy is a boon for stateside viewers—and the Danish director himself—since these seedy chronicles are best experienced as one rabid beast instead of a brood of yipping pups. Alone, the films’ blend of Eurosleaze exploitation and existentialism can seem facile, as if Refn were just renting a cot in Quentin Tarantino’s halfway house of underworld irony. It’s especially true of the first, Pusher (1996), which is content to merely observe antiheroic dope dealer Frank (Bodnia) as he violently digs his own grave. Together, however, the episodes comment on and inform each other in surprisingly graceful ways. Like Lucas Belvaux’s La Trilogie (2002), another three-part harmony that adds up to a bigger single picture, bit players in one chapter may suddenly take center stage in another, and hidden depths can spring up from the least likely candidates.
Rather than retreads, Refn’s sequels offer compelling parallel lines. In Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands (2004), the focus is now on Tonny (Mikkelsen), Frank’s bad lieutenant, who’s dealing with father issues on two fronts. And don’t bother looking for either protagonist in Pusher III: I’m the Angel of Death (2005); that one belongs to Milo (Buric), the kingpin who’s a far more complex character than first imagined. None of these gritty genre trips can claim greatness—the valleys outnumber the peaks in all three—but each offers left-turn refractions of crime and punishment that are too intriguing to ignore. (Opens Fri; Cinema Village) — David Fear