Pusher

If you’re used to the amenities of even a smaller city, life in a small town might seem more like life on another planet. Maybe you might luck out and there’ll be a pizza place that delivers until 8:00, but you aren’t exactly going to have a lot of options for eating out. I went to a high school in a town of about 2,000 people and it was big news when the Dairy Queen opened up. Of course there were bars, but about the only other place available to hang out was the bowling alley where you might pick up an overdone hot dog. This might seem laughable if you’re used to New York or Chicago, but some do prefer a slower pace to life and like knowing all their neighbors. If you aren’t cut out for the quiet life, though — as seems to be the case with many of the characters in Pusher — it’s easy to fall into some very bad habits.

The stereotype of the dealer loitering on an urban street corner isn’t necessarily all that accurate; today the “average” dealer is just as likely to live in a double-wide on the gravel road by the factory where half the town works, selling prescription meds to friends and neighbors. That’s basically how Brittany Lee (Andi Morrow, Here Lies Joe) runs her business, taking in supplies from Hailey (Dara Tiller) and passing them on to loyal customers like James (Levi Krevinghouse). This particular business causes some awkward situations — Brittany and Hailey can barely stand each other, and while James and Brittany might once have gotten along great, these days they hardly know what to say to each other.

James & Brittany in front of his trailer
James and Brittany share an incredibly awkward moment.

And Brittany, feeling the sudden, powerful effects of guilt, wants to talk to James, to try to make amends, but they’re as stuck in this pattern as they are stuck in the town. James has no support system to turn to, and Brittany has few options for making a living in an area that’s clearly deeply economically depressed. And so the vicious cycle continues.

Yes, it is a downer of a film, but it also encapsulates modern small town life, with an ending that’s both oddly unexpected and utterly inevitable. The cast and crew have also made it intriguing, through often brutal realism and the occasional flash of the dry, dark humor that helps the characters get through their lives. Some days might be hopeful, others despairing, but all anyone can really do is to take them as they come. Morrow and Krevinghouse convincingly portray the bizarre, dependent dynamic between a dealer and a client who grew up together, against the backdrop of a town clinging to its existence. This could be any town — yours or the next one down the highway, and the people could be you or anyone you’ve ever known, all of them just muddling and struggling through from day to day.

Dragonflies Only Live for 24 Hours

It’s easy to get in the habit of thinking of some people as larger than life heroes. We’d all like to think that police officers, for instance, are incorruptible, or at least close to it. But they’re as human as the rest of us, and sometimes that will lead to them turning to the dark side, with consequences they might never have imagined. In Dragonflies Only Live For 24 Hours, two police officers take one fateful step that eventually leads them down a rabbit hole of corruption and lies.

Part of the problem is that Parker (Judson Vaughan, director of Burn) and Frankie (Karl Kennedy-Williams) are convinced they’ve been unjustly passed over for promotion. And it can really hurt, to feel like you’re being denied something you’ve worked hard for, for no good reason. Considering how far these two go to set things “right”, however, it’s very possible their boss just had a hunch he’d better promote two other guys instead. Frankie and Parker are great friends, though, who stick together even when one of them comes up with an idea that is, to put it mildly, bizarre. They’re a pretty good example of a shared psychosis, actually.

Frankie and Parker
Frankie and Parker keep the streets safe from those who dare to steal garden decor.

Anyway, they consider themselves to be firmly on the side of good as they scheme to go a step further than usual, preventing crime instead of just arresting the bad guys after they’ve already ruined (or taken) someone’s life. Of course, anyone who knows anything about Minority Report, either book or movie, knows that this idea is problematic at best, and these guys don’t even have any precognitives around. But as their plans and schemes grow more intricate and more deadly, it also gets harder to know who to trust, not to mention harder for the viewer to look away.

Kennedy-Williams and Vaughan have to carry the show, and they do so brilliantly, creating absolutely believable, fallible characters who are like brothers, joining forces against the world and breaking all the rules — and quite a few laws — in pursuit of a higher purpose. Unfortunately, sometimes the higher purpose gets a little blurry, and the old saying about fighting monsters definitely applies. The supporting cast does an equally stellar job of bringing the often dark world of the film to life. Throw in a little humor, a little irony, and some of the most ruthless schemes and unexpected twists you’ve ever seen, and you’ve got a four and a half out of five star film that takes the entire idea of a cop movie to new and impressive heights.