Neil Armfield‘s Candy (ThinkFilm, 11.27), which I saw last month in Toronto, is an Australian-made drama about a young couple (Heath Ledger, Abbie Cornish) hooked on heroin and, to a lesser extent, each other. The fact that it’s mostly plays like a cautionary tale about drug addiction begs a question. Has there ever been a movie about drug users enjoying satisfaction and serenity?
In the best-respected movies about drugs and druggies (Last Days, Requiem for a Dream, Panic in Needle Park, Drugstore Cowboy, Last Train to Brooklyn, The Basketball Diaries), controlled substances always enslave. They rule over values, dignity, common sense, decency — they degrade everything and everyone all to hell. Addicts are criminals, animals, degenerates…and sooner or later they end up screaming in some overlit space — a hallway, an operating room, a police precinct — at some godawful hour.
Cautionary tales, hell — they’re horror movies of a sort. Nobody’s just chipping and everyone’s a victim. Get into it yourself and you’ll be next, see? The only one that doesn’t quite say this is Drugstore Cowboy, but only because it’s in-and-out funny during the first hour.
I’m mentioning all this as a preamble because the reigning Big Kahuna of drug-addict movies is going to pop through theatrically in Los Angeles in early November, and obviously down the road on DVD. It’s not just the longest by virtue of being a three-parter, but is clearly one of the best. Meaning it’s one of the most ghastly and grimly believable.
I’m speaking of Nicolas Winding Refn‘s The Pusher Trilogy (Magnolia), which was first shown on this continent at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival. In its entirety, I mean. And it’s a very high quality ride.
The three Copenhagen-based film were made and released over a span of nine or ten years — the low-budget Pusher in ’96, and the more amply fundedPusher II : With Blood on My Hands and Pusher 3: I’m the Angel of Death in ’04 and ’05, respectively.
It took me a while to finally sit down and watch all three but I was very glad after I did. And I don’t have a favorite installment. They’re all part of a thematic piece that basically says the same thing over and over: if you want to surround yourself with totally unreliable low-lifes who will betray you or fuck you up at the drop of a hat, become a drug user or supplier. Thing is, they’re completely convincing in a verite sense. Nothing feels acted or staged — it’s all completely raw and real-feeling.
Pusher is about a small time dealer Frank (Kim Bodnia) whose life becomes more and more hellish and precarious after he’s burned by a supplier (or is it a buyer? I’ve forgotten) and the vise he’s stuck in gets tighter and tighter..
Pusher 2 is about a totally wretched scumbag named Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen, the villain in the upcoming 007 film Casino Royale) who’s just gotten out of the slammer and trying to get his chaotic life into shape. Sure thing. He’s despised by his druglord dad and most of his family, and discovers also that he’s just become a father. Great. Rarely has the big screen been sullied by such an unmitigated lowlife.
Pusher 3 is about a Copenhagen ganglord Milo (Zlatko Buric) dealing with drug-selling comepetitors as he plans festivities for his daughter’s 25th birthday. A description of this film on theUK DVD box says that “the stress of Milo’s day only serves to emphasise the bleak nature of criminal existance.” Bleak? Milo and a hecnhman wind up having to butcher a guy they’ve killed — chop him up and grind him down like hamburger.
Magnolia Pictures began releasing The Pusher Trilogy in theatres last summer. I don’t know what the DVD plans are, but I’m guessing some kind of ear;y ’07 release.
The Magnolia website says it’s currently playing in Cleveland, Ohio. It will open in Huntington, N.Y. on 10.11, Chicago on 10.20, and in Cambridge’s Brattle Theatre on 11.3 along with the L.A. opening.