American crime thrillers have grown so bloated with pop culture and testosterone that these three Danish noirs are arresting for their spareness and close attention to character. Nicolas Winding Refn made his feature debut with Pusher (1996, 105 min.), the tale of a wild-living Copenhagen dealer (Kim Bodnia) whose business debts spiral out of control after he dumps a bag of heroin into a fountain to avoid a bust. When Refn returned to the same terrain several years later he resisted the temptation to rehash the original, instead zeroing in on its secondary characters; each of his three movies stands alone, though watching them in sequence gives one the disquieting sense that every hood at the edge of the frame may have a vivid inner life. Most impressive is Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands (2004, 96 min.), in which the dealer's lunkheaded partner (Mads Mikkelsen) returns home after a prison term to learn his mother has died and his harsh father has turned his attention to a young son by a second marriage. In Pusher III: I'm the Angel of Death (2005, 102 min.) a weary drug lord (Zlatko Buric) tries to juggle Narcotics Anonymous meetings with a business deal gone bad and a pledge to cook for 45 people at his grown daughter's birthday party. The movie goes off the rails at the end, with a clinical sequence of some unlucky goons being bled, gutted, and fed down a garbage disposal, but as a capper to the trilogy, it's a shocking reminder of what these people are capable of doing.
By J.R. Jones