Remakes usually strike whilst the iron is hot when it comes to popular foreign films. The Ring for example came out within four years of the release of the Japanese original and the same with The Grudge. So it’s curious that a British remake of a low-key 1996 Danish thriller should only now be making its way to release. I mean there has even already been a Hindi remake of this for god’s sake.
The release of the remake of Pusher probably has more to do with the current clout of the original’s director Nicholas Winding Refn (who produces here) thanks to the success of Drive. I haven’t seen the original Pusher so can’t comment on whether this is faithful or worthy of the first, however it’s a very different film from Drive and shouldn’t be judged against that film as it does both films a disservice.
Frank (Richard Coyle) is a low-level coke dealer who makes a living with his friend Tony in constant tow. Frank makes a comfortable living, is in a relationship with an escort/stripper (Agyness Deyn) and the film does a good job of sketching out Frank’s relationships and his professionalism when doing a deal. The chance comes up for a major deal for fifty grand’s worth of cocaine with some out of towners. This put’s Frank in direct partnership with ruthless criminal Milo. Predictably as the deal is about to be done the cops swoop in and Frank is arrested despite having dumped the product. Milo is not willing to accept the loss however and demands that Frank pay him back with interest within the week or he will be crippled. Frank goes round calling in all of his debts and has to go to some extreme lengths to get money to pay back Milo. Slowly his relationships crumble as does his sanity.
The story for Pusher isn’t really anything new; it recalls other situation spiralling out of control thrillers like Out of Time, Running Scared and Rogue Trader. What it does have is style and style can count for a lot if your story isn’t any great shakes. Director Luis Prieto keeps things fast and loose, zipping through clubs, car parks, bars and storage rooms in a dizzying manner familiar to anyone who has partaken in the substances that Frank sells on the streets. As the situation gets more desperate, Prieto mixes things up with different lighting schemes and shaking the camera so you are right there in Frank’s morally bankrupt and desperate shoes being pushed to the limit.
The film has a tremendous energy that translates to the viewer and challenges you to keep up and is backed up by a superb soundtrack by Orbital. What is really interesting about Pusher is the way that it examines the relationships forged in Frank’s particular line of work and how tenuous these friendships really are. At the beginning we see that Frank has friends, but they are all dependent on him in some way either for drugs or for money. The existence is sold as a fun one of easy access to pretty much anything he wants but when things take a down turn and Frank is the one in need, these relationships crumble as suddenly all the people who were ‘good for it in a couple of weeks’ reveal themselves to be lowlife liars who Frank has been exploiting. The people greeting Frank as their best friend on a Friday night are suddenly giving him a wide berth and Frank is truly alone. Frank too suddenly turns on people who were closest to him and with little real provocation other than his easy existence having been obliterated. Having not seen the original I can’t say if this was something present there, but here this aspect felt really new and something that hasn’t been previously explored much in film apart from a couple of lines in films like Trainspotting and A Scanner Darkly.
Richard Coyle is an actor who hasn’t impressed me previously as he was awful in Outpost 2 and only adequate in Grabbers. Here though Coyle is phenomenal, on-screen for every frame and giving a natural performance that is truly believable as a character that is quite despicable but has our empathy anyway. After this I am kind of keen to see what Coyle does next because I didn’t expect to be as surprised by this performance as I was. Sadly, the same can’t be said for model turned actress Agyness Deyn whose delivery is pure wooden spoon and gives a bad name to models turned actresses everywhere.
Pusher is a short, sharp jolt of adrenaline and the kind of fast paced thriller that is sadly rare in British cinema and for that you should definitely check it out.