Johnny is a street-smart kid who moves cocaine, using his natural charm and others’ assumptions about children to avoid getting caught. When he sidles up to a famous actor late one night, Johnny picks the man’s pocket and is quickly caught by the police. Agreeing to not press charges, the actor introduces himself as Antony and asks the boy to be his new cocaine source. With an unstable home life and hopes of something beyond moving drugs, Johnny shares his dream of becoming an actor with Antony, who decides to try and kick his drug habit in order to help the boy out. Unfortunately, Johnny’s former boss and Antony’s own self-destructive tendencies aren’t going to let them have a happy ending …
At the heart of this film is Sverre Rous’ performance as Johnny. The young actor embodies the tragedy and heartache of a child caught in circumstances he cannot possibly navigate. As Johnny is used and manipulated by the adults around him, Rous channels the character’s rage, hurt, and fear as he slips deeper into the drug operation that offers him security. The actor’s chemistry with Ben Segers as Antony is fantastic with a fascinating intergenerational dynamic. As Johnny seeks validation and assistance from the adult world he so desperately wants to be a part of, Antony sees Johnny as a window into the youth that mock his plays in cafes, and maybe even his last option for redemption. Their initial connection becomes an emotional bond, but one that cannot keep them from the consequences of their respective pasts.
This movie’s frank depiction of poverty, addiction, and abuse does not moralize about its characters’ choices and invites empathy for people we would rather label criminals. Taking on issues of refugees in Belgium, performative activism, and the cycle of addiction, the film never allows its social issues to overshadow the characters trying to navigate this world. Brutal and unsparing, DEALER is a sharp social critique wrapped in a gripping crime story. (AUSTIN KING)