There’s really nothing essential about the English language remake of ‘Pusher’. It pretty much only exists because filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn made the original ‘Pusher’ trilogy and is a more well known director now that he’s made ‘Drive’. That being said, this version is a mostly entertaining if pretty standard London set crime thriller. There are a surprise or two to be had, but mostly this is a by the numbers flick that will likely get easily lost in the shuffle when it opens on Friday, but represents a decent enough time at the movies. It didn’t completely win me over, as parts of it are better than others, but there’s no denying a kinetic energy that exits within the film. The acting isn’t bad at all, the writing and direction are a bit stylized but not overtly annoying, and on the whole it’s a mixed bag that’s good for a remake but perhaps only average for a standalone film. Those who enjoy the original trilogy won’t really find too much here, but it’s hard to imagine any overt hatred for this movie. It knows what it is and achieves more of its goals than not.
The plot follows a small time drug pusher during a very bad week in London that sees his life spiral way out of control. Frank (Richard Coyle) doesn’t lack for confidence, but considering his meager assets it’s clear that he’s never going to become a kingpin or anything like that. He’s not exactly content with his station in life, but there’s a steadiness to his dealings with manic sidekick Tony (Bronson Webb) and his stripper girlfriend Flo (Agyness Deyn). They live nice and exciting lives, but there’s a dark undercurrent to their neon nights. They’re all drug addicts in one way or another themselves, but being junkies is about to become the least of their problems. Frank gets in over his head through an ambitious set of wheeling and dealing, a confluence of events that leaves him £55,000 in debt to a Serbian drug lord named Milo (Zlatko Buric). This leads Frank to try and set up a high stakes deal to get the money back, but a bust by the police leaves him in an even more desperate situation. Milo claims to be Frank’s friend, but he’s not above dispatching his associate/enforcer Hakan (Mem Ferda) to first assist and then threaten Frank. To get out of this alive, Frank is going to have think way outside the box…
None of the performances in the film wowed me, but there’s a constant bit of energy that permeates the cast. Richard Coyle is suitably intense as the lead, though he also adeptly portrays the growing desperation of the character. The script shortchanges the character a bit, but that’s true of everyone here. Coyle could have a future in bigger movies of this ilk if the film goes over well. Threatening to steal some of the early scenes is Bronson Webb, who’s over the top but fun as someone closer to a member of the ‘Trainspotting’ crew than a threatening drug pusher. He’s very amusing and Webb does a lot with a lithe. Agyness Deyn manages to be more than a pretty face, but she’s given very little to do overall. Zlatko Buric is way over the top as the villain, reprising his role from the original, and it fits him like a glove by now. The supporting players include the aforementioned Mem Ferda, as well as the likes of Paul Kaye, Neil Maskell, and Daisy Lewis. I liked Webb best in the cast, but no one was bad.
Luis Prieto is making his English language debut here, and while it’s not an ineffective piece of direction, a bit too much of it is influenced by Nicolas Winding Refn. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but when you’re remaking one of his films, it would have been helpful to differentiate yourself a bit more. There are difference to be sure, but I thought of Refn more than I should have. Prieto has talent and won’t lose work because of this, but he doesn’t really elevate things. The same goes for the screenplay that Matthew Read turned in. He doesn’t develop his characters that much and there’s too many repetitive scenes for my taste, but he’s not inept with the genre. Read knows he’s making a ‘Pusher’ flick and sets about to make one. In that regard he succeeds. I just was hoping for a more original movie.
When ‘Pusher’ opens in theaters this weekend, you’ll have the choice of seeing a well above average remake. Take that for what you will, as it will help this film to grade it on a sliding scale. If you’ve enjoyed the original movies, there won’t be too much for you here. If you’re a fan of London set gangster flicks, this should do the trick, though don’t go in expecting brilliance. I’m not giving it a full endorsement, but it’s not far off from one. If you’re intrigued by this movie, try it out. If you’re not, then it won’t be very hard to stay away…
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Tags: Bronson Webb, Luis Prieto, Matthew Read, Nicolas Winding Refn, Paul Kaye, Pusher, remake, Richard Coyle, Zlatko Burić