A career criminal's attempt at redemption meets with mixed results in "I'm the Angel of Death: Pusher 3." Third entry in Danish helmer Nicolas Winding Refn's ongoing examination of dishonor among all-too-human thieves finds the series maturing beyond genre elements to embrace deeper questions of mortality and identity.

A career criminal’s attempt at redemption meets with mixed results in “I’m the Angel of Death: Pusher 3.” Third entry in Danish helmer Nicolas Winding Refn’s ongoing examination of dishonor among all-too-human thieves that began with “Pusher” (1996) and second entry “With Blood On My Hands: Pusher II” (2004) finds the series maturing beyond genre elements to embrace deeper questions of mortality and identity. Though enterprising fests would do well, like Toronto, to screen all three, each pic stands on its own, with this chapter a fine entree into Refn’s world for fests, spunky distribs and cablers. Cult status on DVD is assured.

Five days into rehab from his heroin habit, middle-aged drug baron Milo (Zlatko Buric) has a lot on his plate. In addition to mounting a dinner for 50 to celebrate the 25th birthday of daughter Milena (Marinela Dekic), he’s orchestrating a complicated drug deal with some foreigners. “If you want to survive,” he reasons, “you have to deal with the new generation.”

When, instead of heroin his shipment is 10,000 ecstasy pills, Milo is perplexed by the new drug and calls in former bodyguard and current restaurateur Radovan (Slavko Labovic) to help him rough up contact Little Mohammed (Ilyas Agac).

Later, after Milo is forced to dispatch two fallen-from-grace colleagues in the dining room of his own cafe, Radovan turns the place into an abattoir to dispose of the bodies. As dawn breaks, the numb Milo stands by his daughter’s empty pool. “I’ve been busy,” he tells her of his long night.

Reprising a pair of marginal but promising characters from “Pusher” nearly 10 years ago, Refn has made a nervous, absorbing film that plays like a feature-length version of the paranoia-drenched pasta cooking scene from Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas.”

Longtime fans of the series will get a kick out of the ways in which Milo and Radovan have aged; the former’s as bad a cook as he was in the original. Most engaging is the way Refn has woven dark comedy into the proceedings, balancing that with the unconscious moral choices his protags must take at seemingly every turn. In this universe, it’s only natural that Milena would want to muscle in on dad’s drug biz, or that the bespectacled Radovan would fall so easily back into the grisly business of thuggery.

As with “The Sopranos,” Refn’s point seems to be that crime, once embraced as a way of life, can mutate even the most basic of human interactions. Redemption, if it is to be found at all, must always be diluted by moral compromise.

Though entire cast is terrific, pic belongs to Buric as the sad-sack Milo, a career criminal so weary of the game that he seems to be dealing with his nonstop crises by reflex alone.

Production package is slick, with hand-held 35mm following the vidshot original and transitionally grainy second chapter. The low-end, swooshing soundscape of the pic’s graphically crimson final act is reminiscent of certain 1970s horror films (music for the sequence is credited to something called the “Texas Chain Saw Orchestra).” Refn hasn’t said no to further chapters in the saga.

I'm The Angel Of Death: Pusher 3

Denmark

Production

An NWR Films, Danish Film Institute, Nordisk Film, TV2 Denmark, Pusher III production. (International sales: Nordisk Film, Valby, Denmark.) Produced by Henrik Danstrup. Executive producers, Kenneth D. Plummer, Kim Magnusson, Rupert Preston, Mikkel Berg. Directed, written by Nicolas Winding Refn.

Crew

Camera (color), Morten Soborg; editors, Anne Osterud, Miriam Norgaard; music, Peter Peter, production designer, Rasmus Thjellesen; costume designer, Jane Marshall Whittaker; sound (Dolby Digital), Jens Bonding; first assistant director, Niels Norlov Hansen. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 9, 2005. (Also in London Film Festival.) Running time: 107 MIN. (Danish, Serbian, Albanian dialogue)

With

Milo - Zlatko Buric Little Mohammed - Ilyas Agac Milena - Marinela Dekic Luan - Kujtim Loki Rexho - Ramadan Huseini Radovan - Slavko Labovic Branco - Vasilije Bojicic
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