Film Review: PusherRichard Coyle and a strong supporting cast lend interest to a London-set remake of Nicolas Winding Refn’s 1996 Danish gangster thriller.
While capturing some of the abrasive edginess of Nicolas Winding Refn’s career-launching 1996 Danish thriller, on which it is based, the London-set remake Pusher struggles to rise above standard drug dealer/gangster fare and succeeds, but only in part, thanks to its strong cast led by Richard Coyle. With Refn as executive producer, a goodly dose of the original tension and existential angst comes through, even if the cult magic does not. It marks the first English-language picture by culturally versatile director Luis Prieto, who followed his Spanish feature debut with two Italian teen romances.
The action is concentrated in one nightmarish week in which small-time pusher Frank (Coyle) plummets into a downward spiral from which there may be no return. He’s introduced selling hits of coke at discos and strip clubs with his young, mad-dog helper Tony (a livewire Bronson Webb, who chalks up dramatic points in the hard-act-to-follow role that was originally Mads Mikkelsen’s). Their tough-guy pairing has a component of camaraderie, with Frank casually getting the young hothead out of scrapes. At home, Frank is shacked up with Flo (Agnyess Deyn), a beautiful, working-class pole dancer and junkie several steps above her worn-out associates, who have succumbed to turning tricks. Floating on a wave of money and drugs, these outsiders could almost be mistaken for an enviously cool couple on the London party scene.
Then Frank gets overly ambitious. Buying £45,000 worth of drugs on one-day credit from jovial Serbian drug lord Milo, drolly played by Zlatko Buric who reprises his original role from the Danish film, Frank sets up a rendezvous with a high-rolling new customer. An undercover police op blows the whole deal, Frank gets busted and winds up with no cash and no blow—and a huge, unpayable debt to the now-ferocious Milo and his knee-capping thugs.
It’s hard to find a new angle on this oft-told tale that doesn’t feel like variations on a theme, and narratively there is very little to get excited about. Prieto wisely shifts the focus to the inner conflicts of the increasing desperate dealer as he becomes first frightened, then belligerent and finally plain out-of-control. After he beats his sidekick Tony within an inch of his life and participates in tragically roughing up an old customer, it’s clear the road to hell is one-way. Yet however unsavory Frank’s actions, Coyle keeps him within human bounds and never forsakes audience sympathy completely. As Pusher turns into an actors’ showcase, the players’ initial theatrical delivery becomes more natural and involving farther along in the story.
Also very fine is top model Agness Deyn, previously seen as Aphrodite in Clash of the Titans. She has a graceful fragility that offers a new take on the good bad girl who wants out, though one wonders why someone with Flo’s looks doesn’t try modeling. When she’s accosted at a party as a prostitute, her wounded feelings are genuinely moving and prepare for the film’s final cruel twist.
Cinematographer Simon Dennis and production designer Sarah Webster give the film a stylish DV retro look in all the expected locations—deserted warehouses, grubby apartments and glittering nightclubs, meetings in a Turkish bath and in Milo’s office, incongruously stuffed with wedding dresses and a machine gun in the fridge. The not-unpleasant disco beat on the soundtrack is furnished care of British electronic band Orbital.
—The Hollywood Reporter