Unlike the other two, I really had to think on this one. When it ended, I wasn't sure what I thought or felt. This film, while so similar in structure to the other two, feels different. It's more personal. Milo was the villain of the original film, so to have you sympathizing with him here and wanting him to succeed was an interesting maneuver. Fortunately, Milo is also a pretty great character, and I loved him in the first film, as well as his brief appearance in the second film. Radovan, Milo's partner in the first film, also makes a rather memorable appearance in this film--which is pretty cool considering he's probably the best character in the entire trilogy. But still, while the film was equally as gritty, the personal feeling of the story made everything that much more gut-wrenching (no pun intended... if you've seen the film).
But in the end, I do believe it's probably tied with the first film to me, ranking-wise. The characterization here was superb. Milo is such a complex character that you do kind of feel for, so that makes the overall film that much more depressing and difficult to watch as he just continues to lose it and slip further and further out of control. And everybody just pushes him around, from his colleagues to his spoiled brat daughter. The dangerous, in-control drug lord from the first two films is only a glimmer here, instead replaced with an old man caught in a transitory period where he wants to better himself and is failing.
It is a bit of a slow burn, though. The first 50 minutes, I found, were quite slow, and I checked the clock a handful of times. But the last hour it definitely worth the wait. Like the first film, the slow build of drama until things start spiraling out of control is needed, and the spiral itself is both suspenseful and hard to watch. The entire segment with the prostitute deal was intense, and all I wanted was Milo to snap and beat the crap out of some people. And then the final 20 minutes or so with Radovan was crazy and disturbing (and if you have a weak stomach, beware). And the way it was filmed--in Refn's style of "calm, nonchalant violence" (as best as I can describe it)--is used perfectly in the film's climax.
To briefly discuss the trilogy as a whole, it's one of the most solid trilogies out there. It's not perfect, but it's really dang good. I did prefer the first and third to the second, though I still thought the second was good... just in a different kind of way. I like the complex characters these films present, and I like how all the movies are at least loosely tied together in the characters they share. And what might feel like a flatter character in one film will be expanded on in another, which will give entirely new meaning to that character in the other film. All the films have an open-ending, and they all have different emotions that they leave you with. The first film ends almost as if it's to-be-continued and a sense of dread. The second film ends with a glimmer of hope. And the third film ends rather depressingly--empty and hopeless. To me, my favorite ending was ironically the second film, as it wrapped up things with the story, the character, and theme while still leaving it open to what actually happens. The ending to this one (the third) is currently my least favorite, as it just ends on what's pretty much a symbolic shot. It's not bad... it's just not my favorite type of ending. It's an open ending, but unlike the other two, I didn't leave the film asking (at least too strongly) "what happened next?" And, ironically, that's what made me have to think about my feelings on the film more than the other two. So perhaps that means this was the strongest ending, and to that I can easily concede. I just preferred the other two (particularly the second).
Overall, though, this third installment was very good. The acting was really good. The writing--especially the characterization--was fantastic, as it was with all the films. The direction was tight, especially when it came to any of the violence. I love Milo and Radovan, so seeing more of them is always a good thing to me. I do recommend the film, though you'll want to start with the first one. It was explained to me that this is a trilogy experience, and it really is. You don't need to see each one for them to make sense. They all stand alone. But they work best when you watch them in order, as the character connections and expansions are what make this trilogy such a treat. They're good alone. They're great together. But as for this one on its own...
A Keanu 'Whoa'