It's taken me three movies to this, but here goes: "You know the dealer, the dealer is a man, with a lump of grass in his hand, but the pusher is a monster, not a natural man!" That's right, it's time for the third and final chapter in Denmark's answer to "The Godfather", because "just when you thought you were out, they pull you back in... or push you back out... or something". You know, I'm sticking with "push", not necessarily because it goes with this series' title, but because I've always been pushed out of these boring films that attempt to be subjective, and therefore draw you in, with this film being... well, an exception. Yeah, I actually kind of like this, probably because this installment features a protagonist who is a full-blown Serbian, and therefore more exciting than the usual Dane, as surely as the last film at least attempted to set up opportunities for a sequel. Granted, this film barely has anything to do with the story of the last film, but still, "Pusher II" ended on what appeared to be a cliffhanger, unlike 1996's "Pusher"... I think. Yeah, I can't remember where "Pusher" ended up, and to tell you the truth, I'm not entirely sure that "Pusher II" left an opening for a sequel, because, you know, it's kind of hard to remember a dream, which means that I might ought to jump right into this review quick, because even though this is decent, it's not too much less slow, and I don't want to run the risk of forgetting that I'm reviewing... um... "The Godfather Part III". I can't even joke about that, because I'm one of the few people in the world who love "The Godfather Part III", as well as one of the few people in the world who didn't like the first two of these film, and isn't even crazy about this final installment, which is indeed better, but not by a substantial margin, for several reasons.
Let me tell you, what really did a serious number on the predecessors was their plot concepts' questionable layouts, and while this film is much less about aimless meditations upon nothing, it still has natural shortcomings to subject matter, having a minimalism to its scope, as well as some rotten protagonistic characters, who are more well-handled than ever, but kind of exacerbate this story concept's limitations in meat, further limited by familiarity. While I'm relieved to see that writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn has really cooled it with that offbeat, meditative storytelling that ruined the predecessors, - which even ran together because of their following a questionable storytelling structure so closely - by conforming more to a less experimental, more engaging plot structure, this film exacerbates the sense of conventionalism that even loomed over this supposedly "unconventional" predecessors, following a predictable path, and even way too slowly. I've said this time and again, but I am still proud to say that we're not dealing with the misguided experiment that was the first two "Pusher" films, and yet, this film isn't too much less limp than its predecessors, going bloated by repetitiously excess filler, as well as material whose meandering eventually leads to a lapse in focus, something that this effort should be above. No matter how much more focused this film is than its predecessors, coherency is still limited, and such unevenness in pacing emphasizes narrative shortcomings, especially when backed by limps spells in atmospheric momentum. There's more atmospheric bite than ever, and that's, of course, largely because material is more frequent, yet considering that there are still natural shortcomings and excesses, it should come as no surprise that there are moments in which material to soak up with a near-consistently hyper-meditative atmosphere runs out, resulting in dry, maybe even dull spells, many of which distance in a way that some may recognize all too well from the mediocre predecessors. The film is decent, and that's more I can say about the first two "Pushers", but to tell the truth, the final product doesn't go all that far once it breaks from mediocrity, going held back by familiarity, pacing problems and atmospheric dull spells behind a minimalist story, almost to the point of collapsing short of decency. Well, I'm happy to say that such a collapse does not come, because no matter how flawed this film is, it settles many of the missteps made by its misguided predecessors, and meets them with more than a few strengths, some of which are sharper.
Now, if Morten Søborg's cinematographic abilities have improved since "Pusher II", then it's hard to notice, though definition does still seem more crisp, as surely as the tasteful color plays that were particularly sharp in "Pusher II" remain to polish the lens and enhance the engagement value to an immersive, if sometimes dizzyingly shaky realist shooting style, while Peter Peter's and Peter Kyed's stylish score works to liven things up a bit. Style isn't too much sharper than it was in, say, "Pusher II", which was still dull, so the aesthetic polish doesn't flavor things up all that much, but it still settles blandness to a certain extent, though not as much as, of all things, substance. Again, natural shortcomings are still here, but they're less backed by such questionable storytelling ideas as thorough meditations upon people doing little, if anything at all, thus, it's much easier to see the compelling element within this subject matter dealing with the business and human depths of the drug pushing industry, especially considering that questionable characters engage more than ever because they're being more well-drawn than ever, as well as as well-portrayed as they usually are. There's a little more acting material than usual, even if it's still limited, and that goes a fair way in inspired charismatic and convincing performances, the strongest of which being by leading man Zlatko Burić, who truly deliver with his subtly layered and intense portrayal of a drug pushing veteran who grows tired of a rotten lifestyle as he finds himself getting in situations that he has rarely, if ever faced before, while struggling with the very addiction whose presence in others is how he makes his living. There's a lot of emphasis on Burić's Milo character, and while Burić isn't all that excellent, he's strong enough to carry much of the film, though not without the help of his onscreen peers, because while this film is more well-done than its predecessors, acting is still the only truly consistent strength. That being said, Nicolas Winding Refn's directorial performance is also worthy of praise, at least to a certain extent, as it secures the final product as decent, as surely as it secured the predecessors as mediocre, because even though slow spells in storytelling cannot be ignored as somewhat distancing, there's less attention being placed on nothingness, as well as meditations upon subtle intensity that sustains a certain consistent degree of intrigue, the heights of which can be found when material really kicks in, with tension, if not a hint of dramatic resonance. The strengths that save the final product from the fate of mediocrity that ultimately overpowered the predecessors are subtle, but those light touches end up going a pretty good distance in keeping you going with aesthetic and dramatic engagement value, even if remains seriously flawed.
When it's time to come down from this final "plunge" (You know, like syringe plunge, as in hard drugs... or something), you're left with a final product whose natural shortcomings go so emphasized by familiarity, often unfocused dragging and sometimes dulling atmospheric cold spells that it comes close to collapse into the mediocrity that plagued its predecessors, but questionable storytelling is settled down, allowing you to soak up the handsome cinematography, strong acting - especially by leading man Zlatko Burić - and generally endearing direction behind intriguing subject matter that make "Pusher III: I'm the Angel of Death" a genuinely decent and often effective, relatively worthy conclusion to a generally misguided saga, even if it too has misguided moments.
2.5/5 - Fair