Pusher 2 opens with Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen) about to be released from prison, but not before he hears a chilling monologue from a man he owes money to, presumably for protection while on the inside. When Tonny is released from jail, he visits his father 'The Smith' (Leif Sylvester), a local criminal who's surprisingly reluctant (at best) to give Tonny any sort of help whatsoever, but he grudgingly gives Tonny a trial job at his automotive shop that's a front for selling stolen cars. While Tonny wants to get in good with his cold father, he finds himself being pulled into a precarious situation, not unlike Frank's predicament from the first 'Pusher' movie. After Tonny agrees to help "Kurt the Cunt" (Kurt Nielsen) in a seemingly innocuous drug transaction, things go south. Tonny also finds out that he may have a son to a drug inhaling whore that "half the town's fucked" (those are her best friend's words) and that his mother's died while he was in prison. All things considered, it's a tough time of transition for Tonny and the poisonous people he's surrounded by aren't making his reintegration into society any easier.
We last saw Tonny beaten half to death by his 'friend' Frank who was feeling the proverbial walls closing in around him and a sense of betrayal that may or may not have been manufactured by the police to provoke an incriminating response from Frank after he managed to ditch the drugs from the bust. Did Tonny sell Frank out? That's what I wanted to know, but we're never really told either way. I don't think he did. Why would a valuable informant, the son of a local heavy, be sent to prison if he were working for them? It doesn't make sense. But a few people did make a couple of snide remarks to Tonny that seemed to suggest that people were aware of the possibility. Nevertheless, all sorts of criminal activity was conducted around him, and he was involved in too. All in all, I don't think Tonny did what Frank thought he did. Which makes the original Pusher even more tragic for Frank.
The father and son dynamic seemed to be the underlying theme of Pusher 2. Not just between Tonny and The Smith, but between Tonny and his 'maybe baby' as well. I never really understood why The Smith treated Tonny with such scorn and contempt either, constantly belittling and ridiculing him in front of others and calling him the "son of a whore", but wasn't his other treasured son the "son of a whore" as well? What made his new son any different to Tonny? And despite The Smith telling Tonny to set a good example for his kid, what example did The Smith ever set for Tonny? The Smith raised Tonny to be a criminal and then berated him for what he become. It's no wonder that Tonny held such a deep resentment towards The Smith. I didn't understand everyone who was constantly putting Tonny down by incessantly calling him a "retard". Tonny was probably a little bit quieter than he was before, but I chalked that up to his maturity and his time in prison. Nothing ever indicated that he was a retard in any way. In 'Pusher' Tonny came across as a bit of a goofball, but Nicolas Winding Refn really added a lot of depth and complexity to this character, even more so than Frank I thought.
The grainy, gritty and hand-held look of 'Pusher' is still used here, but it feels a lot more controlled and confident, probably due to Nicolas Winding Refn's increasing experience with the pen and behind the lens. The pacing is better, more focused and starts off as being immediately captivating. Pusher was an escalation of desperation, Pusher 2 was more of a tense, character-focused movie that centered around unraveling the mindset of the enigmatic Tonny. I wonder if this was the movie that really catapulted Mads Mikkelsen into stardom in Denmark. I don't know how 'big' he was before Pusher 2, but he really gives a powerful, nuanced and layered performance here. Mikkelsen really illustrates the disconnect between how he sees himself and the depressing reality of his own situation with no shortage of people ready and waiting to kick him when he's down at every opportunity. It's most likely not that far removed from how the average criminal sees himself and how others tend to see them. The criminal lifestyle is stripped so bare of any glamour or prestige that it's a lurid and brutally honest 'look' at low-level criminals. I wonder if the top criminals will fare any better in Pusher 3? Will they dress in suave suits and live in mansions as we so often see in movies? I doubt it.
I think that Pusher 2 is a more polished, refined and thoughtful movie than 'Pusher' was, largely due to its emotional depth concerning the troubled father and son relationships shown in the movie. Frank was basically just a greedy dealer with delusions of grandeur who bit off more than he could chew, but in Pusher 2 we're given some raw insight into Tonny and end up empathizing with the criminal who only ever wants to be a better son to his father, and eventually a better father to his son. Although the end does leave you wondering how successful Tonny will really be in that venture. It's an irony that the one thing that Tonny seems to be seeking more than anything else is "Respect", when it's the one thing that he can never truly acquire from the people he desperately wants it from. Nicolas Winding Refn has successfully expanded on the Copenhagen drug scene in Pusher 2 and is also much more coherent and powerful than its predecessor was.
Written by - The Sentry - 13/09/2016