Pusher III – I’m The Angel Of Death

Denmark (2004) Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn

And so we come to the final instalment of the Pusher trilogy, creation of Danish writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn who has since become a polarising figure in Hollywood through his stylish but oblique output. We’re still in Copenhagen but this time the spotlight turns to Serbian drug dealer Milo (Zlatko Burić).

In danger of being usurped by the new generation of younger, flashier and more devious younger dealers on the scene, Milo is preoccupied with arranging a 25th birthday party for his daughter Milena (Marinela Dekic), a spoiled brat who shares her father’s no nonsense attitude. So stressed is he that Milo is attending a help group as an ex-addict in case he is tempted to relapse.

When a shipment of heroin turns out to be ecstasy tablets, something Milo has never sold before, he makes a deal with one of the younger dealers Little Muhammed (Ilyas Agac) to shift the pills to pay off Albanian supplier Luan (Kujtim Loki). But the deal is in jeopardy when Muhammed fails to return with the money and Milo is confronted by who Luan who wants to know what the hold up is.

The gritty aesthetic and cinema vérité style is still intact from the previous films but the shift from the fast paced litany of Frank and Tonny’s misdemeanours of before to this meandering and grounded final chapter, makes for a disorientating sensation. Only initially, however, as the final act compensates for this with ten minutes of graphic, gruesome, (literal) stomach churning footage the squeamish should avoid.

Yet Milo proves to be an interesting character to follow, since he was the man at the top whilst Frank and Tonny were at the bottom, and becoming absorbed in his world happens fairly quickly. In terms of storyline credibility, Milo’s is the more relatable of the three as we have all stressed out over pleasing our loved ones, and Refn shows us here, that does also include pernicious drug dealers.

Milo is certainly humanised in this film, making a refreshing change from the usual depiction of the drug baron living in an ivory tower, covered in expensive jewellery, smoking a big cigar and young woman draped all over him. This is a man with his own small food joint for which he does the cooking, drives an old van and smokes regular fags with Milena being the only female presence in his life.

He has his henchmen, like the burly Branko (Vasilije Bojičić), but this is hardly a man with an empire. Unable to throw his weight around with Luan, it becomes apparent that for all his years as a dealer Milo is now just another cog in a machine and his past reputation means nothing to the young lions. By the end Milo, is playing foil to everyone else around him and getting nothing out of it.

Elsewhere Luan’s interpreter Rexho (Ramadan Hyseni) has Milo at his disposal following the disaster of the ecstasy deal, pushing Milo further down the ladder. He is forced to play host to a meeting between a pimp and a brothel owner which, naturally gets out of hand and Milo is left to clean up the mess. And all of this occurs on the night of Milena’s party, but luckily (or oddly), no-one hardly notices Milo’s absence.

There is no getting around the murkiness and grimy feel of this film that permeates through every grainy frame, and the intrusive camerawork is relentless in pulling us into the scene, often keeping us there against our will. Yet this is the most light hearted and borderline comedic of the trilogy, which may have been a surreptitious plan by Refn in an attempt to make Milo somewhat sympathetic.

If it isn’t the irony of a drug dealer vowing to adhere to the twelve step programme of his NA group then running off to secure his next shipment of heroin, it is Milo poisoning his henchmen with his lousy cooking! The reason Little Muhammed took Milo’s ecstasy without a chaperone was because Branko was chained to the toilet with a fierce case of the runs!

Perhaps not quite Carry On Dealing but it is little touches like this, and the farcical nature of Milo running between the birthday party and his small eatery, all the while maintaining a sangfroid composure belying the usual incendiary temperament of a drug lord, that we wonder at what point Milo is going to give his someone a good thrashing with a branch!

But this is essentially a seedy urban gangster film and happy endings are not applicable. A desperate Milo calls upon his former henchman Radovan (Slavko Labović), now running a pizza restaurant to help out. I won’t go into specific details about what happens next but I will say that if it wasn’t a dummy used and the actors were really in these scenes then I hope Refn paid them well.

Zlatko Burić does a great job in fleshing out Milo’s character beyond his brief scenes in the preceding films, justifying the decision to show life in criminal underground from his perspective. He could have been a caricature or lazy trope but Refn’s script and Burić’s performance have created a believable character that could translate into a number of everyday scenarios and set-ups.

The big question is how does this film fare within the diegesis of the Pusher trilogy? Is it a satisfying conclusion to the series or is it more of an adjunct due to fewer returning faces? I suppose this will be subjective but this is in fact the most flexible of the three films; there is a continuity as it reveals life from the other side yet, has greater potential as a standalone film.

Watched in isolation I’m The Angel Of Death may seem a disappointing climax to the Pusher series through being different but in context it fits in perfectly, and I am confident that Refn‘s cinematic trilogy will be considered a future classic.