Trouble follows an ex-convict (Mads Mikkelsen) as he tries to gain his father’s favor.
Pusher was the debut film of director Nicolas Winding Refn, released back in 1996. While it’s a bit rough for sure, it was a solid movie, and hinted at the potential he would deliver on with his later movies. 8 years later, he returned to the world he created in his first movie, and directed two follows up movies, being each of them being lead by supporting characters from the first movie. The second Pusher film titled With Blood on His Hands, is a noticeable improvement over the first movie in every way, and is quite great.
Like with the first movie, Pusher 2 feels grounded, from the dialogue, to the world itself. The classic gangster genre cliches seen in most fiction are made realistic and unglamourised in these movies. Refn makes the characters feel genuine and real, and doesn’t shy away from portraying the darker and ugly sides of them. While it carries over many of the great elements from the first Pusher, With Blood on My Hands is also a very different movie. For one, I found the story to be more interesting and compelling. The first Pusher was largely about the protagonist having to try to obtain money in a brief amount of time, pretty standard crime setup and was relatively focused on that. The plot in Pusher 2 is a little more loose and open, at its core it is a character study following our new protagonist Tonny. It does take its time, but overall is a better human drama with a much more sympathetic protagonist. It doesn’t have the intensity of the first movie, where even though you don’t care at all about the main character, you feel really anxious when he keeps getting caught in some dangerous situations. However, Pusher 2 does have this heavy atmosphere of impending doom. Additionally, it is a pretty mesmerising character study of someone who continues to make bad decisions. A large part of why it so works is because of the lead actor, which I’ll get into in a bit. As for the connections to the first movie, it just features two characters from that movie, and there are some brief references. Otherwise it is very standalone. Pusher 2 also has an ambiguous ending, and it was a perfect note to end on.
The acting from everyone in this movie is good, but it all comes down to one actor really, Mads Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen was good in his supporting role as Tonny from the first Pusher, however in that movie he was just a sidekick to the main character and was only in the first act of that movie. With Pusher 2, Mikkelsen gets a lot more to do, and he’s actually fantastic here. Mikkelsen’s performance is very dynamic and nuanced, and he portrays Tonny as being very human, and even sympathetic at times. He carries an implied menace and physicality, but also an intense vulnerability below the surface. You can clearly tell the character not a good person by any means, and he constantly makes bad decisions and mistakes for himself. Despite this, you are constantly wanting him to succeed, and Mikkelsen’s acting is a large reason for that.
Looking between the first Pusher and this movie, Nicolas Winding Refn had definitely developed as a filmmaker during that period. The direction in Pusher 2 doesn’t lose its gritty and real feeling from the first movie, but the directing is undeniably more confident and clear, and much more stylish. The camerawork and cinematography are the most prominent aspect, with very strong colours and lighting, and even the overly shaky handheld shots are gone. The amount of violence in this movie is less than the violence in the first movie, but yet again Refn makes sure that its gritty and unpleasant, and isn’t stylised or glamourised, very much in line with the tone of the story. Another solid aspect that was brought over from the first movie was the good use of music (both the score and the song choices), as well as the lack of music in some scenes.
Pusher 2: With Blood on My Hands improves on every level over the first movie, it’s a well written and compelling character study, directed greatly by Nicolas Winding Refn, and is carried by a fantastic leading performance from Mads Mikkelsen. If you liked the first Pusher then check this out, but again, it’s separate enough from the first movie that you don’t need to have seen it beforehand, you can jump right into it.