Film Review – Pusher
Luis Prieto’s Pusher (2012) is a remake of Nicolas Winding Refn’s directorial debut of the same name. Advertisements make that painfully clear, as his name is plastered all over the posters and trailers. I liked Refn’s film just fine, but I didn’t love it. It didn’t feel unlike any other gangster/crime movie I’d seen before—he has certainly made better and more interesting projects as his career has gone on. I neither loved nor liked this British update. In fact, this is a perfect example of a remake that has gone in the negative direction. I equate this to a band playing a bad cover to a song I didn’t have much affinity for. The characters and plot developments were so cliché that this may have worked better as a parody of the genre instead of a sincere effort.
Frank (Richard Coyle) is a mid-level drug dealer living on the mean streets of London. His entire existence revolves around two things. The first: partying hard with his unhinged friend Tony (Bronson Webb) and his stripper/escort girlfriend Flo (Agyness Deyn). Is it some kind of requirement that friends/girlfriends that exist in these kinds of movies always have to be uncontrollable party animals or prostitutes? The second part to Frank’s life: dealing drugs and making money for the kingpin Milo (Zlatko Buric, reprising his role from the 1996 film). Problem is, Frank is not very good at his job, as he already owes Milo cash as the story begins. In an effort to pay off his debt and live nice and easy for a while, Frank sets up a big-time drug deal worth over forty five thousand pounds. Unfortunately, the drug deal goes very bad, leaving him with no money or drugs. This doesn’t matter to Milo—either he gets his money or Frank will never walk again. And so, our frightened protagonist races against the clock, trying to scrounge up whatever funds he can find, even if it means betraying his friends to the point of violence.
How this plot stretches out to feature-length is an exercise in incompetence for just about all the characters involved. Frank is not an efficient drug dealer. In reality he is quite a bad one. Don’t get me wrong, he seems to be a nice guy; people even know him by first name. But he never collects from his customers; everyone he interacts with says they’ll pay him, but never does. The same goes for Milo and his crew. They let Frank go so often and give him so many time extensions on paying them back that it gets to the point of being funny. First they say, “You have until tomorrow at noon,” then “You have two more hours.” They are far too lenient on this knucklehead. How are we supposed to feel the suspense when Frank tells them he’ll be back at 2:00 PM and Milo’s response is basically him saying, “You promise?” For being hardcore gangsters, I’m not sure how these guys get anything done.
Richard Coyle is forty years old; Bronson Webb and Agyness Deyn are both thirty. The age difference shows. How and why Frank would even know Tony and Flo is a complete mystery to me. The noticeable age gap hinders whatever chemistry the three characters have. Instead of coming across as close friends, it feels as though Frank is the older kid who never wanted to grow up, and still wants hangs out with his much younger high school buddies. Tony, as the idiot sidekick, is portrayed as a caricature. Why would Frank even think about allowing Tony in on his drug deals? I would almost call into question Frank’s judgment for letting someone so inept be a part of something so dangerous. How inept is Tony? He actually busts his ankle trying to show Frank a martial arts move. This actually happens. And as for Flo, she merely plays the love interest to Frank. There is no depth to her character, and her chosen sexual profession is a tired and recycled one. The final choice she makes at the very end seems completely arbitrary, leaving us scratching our heads asking, “Where did that come from?”
Pusher acts tough and talks a big game, but doesn’t have much to offer under its false bravado. Everyone seems to be acting instead of being. There are far too many scenes of macho posturing, and not enough character development to make us feel for anyone’s plight. Worst of all, the style and tone borrows heavily from other sources. The rhythmic, techno beats of the soundtrack remind us often of Refn and his own developed approach. The quick-cut editing style—used to display Frank’s increasing loss of control—is heavily influenced by the early work of Darren Aronofsky, but not to the same effect. Overall, there is no reason for this movie to exist, other than to draw attention to the original, which was just okay to begin with. The thing that worries me is that the original series evolved into a trilogy. Let’s hope that isn’t the case this time around.
Final Grade: C-