It’s taken me some time to get around to screening this second installment of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher Trilogy— a mistake on my part, it turns out, because this is a crime film that demonstrates perfectly what a “genre picture” can do to achieve psychological depth. Given Refn’s reputation for on-screen violence, Pusher II is relatively reserved in terms of punches thrown and weapons fired. Instead the film builds to an increasingly inevitable violent climax, though the image the audience is left with speaks to a sense of fragile optimism. Mads Mikkelsen plays Tonny, a somewhat slow-witted, even child-like, criminal who is treated with barely concealed contempt by those around him. That he sports a skull tattoo of the word “respect” emphasizes his plight; Tonny gets respect from no one, whether it’s the junkie who claims he has fathered her son or his own father, the calculating leader of a car theft ring. Pusher II thus focuses on cruelty and intimacy, and in particular meditates on the pain and disappointment of family relationships that have been instrumentalized. The Duke, Tonny’s father, for example, holds Tonny to a debt he didn’t incur, demanding that he kill The Duke’s ex-wife (Tonny’s stepmother) to square things. Refn establishes Tonny’s vulnerability and bewilderment by tightly framing Mikkelsen’s wounded though artfully controlled facial expressions. But, again, it is the final sequence that underscores Tonny’s emotional nakedness. Having taken the infant that may or may not be his biological son, Tonny boards a street car. Seated against a black window streaked by street lights, the child on his lap, he looks forward out of frame. The identification of this new father with his son is asserted by a visual parallel between Tonne’s shaved head and the hairless baby.
The trailer below promotes the Pusher Trilogy as a whole: