“I’m not a crime buff in any way, but I am interested in people, the sociological aspect. With gangsters, it’s life or death which intensifies the drama,” Refn says in the documentary “Gambler,” and while that’s hard to believe, it’s actually the secret to the “Pusher” films.
He’s not interested in checking off the same tropes that many filmmakers employ in this genre. And partially because of that, he’s made a trilogy in which each chapter works as a satisfying standalone picture while also adding to the greater whole.
In the final entry in the series, Refn focuses on Milo (Zlatko Buric), the drug lord who is the only character to shows up in all three films. ‘I’m the Angel of Death’ is basically a feature-length version of the famous coke-and-helicopters sequence in “Goodfellas.” And if your palms are getting sweaty with anxiety just thinking about that notion, then the film may be too intense for some. Those willing to stick with it to the brutal, gory end (though the filmmaker shows a knack for the subliminal here, no doubt gleaned from his on-the-record appreciation of ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘; the viewer thinks they see more than they actually do) are in for a treat, with a climax that ends on a pitch perfect image.
The film takes place over a 24-hour period as Milo prepares a birthday party for his daughter (she’s turning 25, but gives new meaning to the term princess complex; she makes Veruca Salt from ‘Willy Wonka‘ look like a father’s dream by comparison), as he also tries to stay clean (he attends several narcotics anonymous meetings) and navigate the ever-changing drug business around him.
Every time things begin to get too bleak in the film, Refn pauses the insanity and gives us real reasons to empathize with Milo. We may understand him, but Refn never lets his main character off the hook. It’s, sadly, too late for Milo. The fact that we care is the film’s most impressive feat.
‘Pusher 3′ (aka ‘I’m The Angel Of Death’) will screen at the NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on March 10 at 9 p.m. & March 11 at 7 p.m. The film is part of the retrospective series Driven: The Films of Nicolas Winding Refn.