[This is a re-post of my review from Fantastic Fest 2012. Pusher opens today in limited release.]
This review is a steal, because it’s one review for two movies. Luis Prieto‘s remake of Pusher is in no way significantly different than Nicolas Winding Refn‘s Pusher other than Prieto’s film takes place in London instead of Copenhagen, and the characters speak the primary language of their respective cities. Both films share the same strengths, and Refn’s Pusher is a solid crime flick that takes a lean, gritty premise that runs its protagonist ragged. Prieto doesn’t add anything to the formula, but his mixture still works thanks to the aggressive direction, a strong central performance, and tense pacing.
Frank (Richard Coyle) is a cocky drug dealer who always plays it cool even when he’s fighting or partying. He’s slightly in debt into his supplier, Milo (Zlatko Buric, reprising his role from the original film), but Frank has a line on a big deal that will cover his debt and then some. But in the middle of the deal, the cops bust in, and Frank has to ditch the package. The cops can’t charge him for lack of evidence, but now he doesn’t have Milo’s drugs or his money, and he owes the ruthless gangster £55,000. Frank must then go on a frantic hunt for the money and betray almost every one he knows in order to stay alive.
Pusher is a sharp little movie in how it moves a crime film’s periphery character—the poor schmuck who owes a debt he’ll never be able to repay—and puts him front and center. From there, we see a character completely unravel to where he’s forced to look inside himself only to discover nothing is there. He beats his friend half to death, and ignores the love of his girlfriend, Flo (Agyness Deyn). Survival, when put first, reduces men to beasts, and Pusher effectively captures that by throwing the world into chaos through booming techno music and schizophrenic cinematography.
But this isn’t an ugly movie even though Frank is in an ugly situation. The techno music is Frank’s pulse, and the bright, garish colors swarm in to where we’re swallowed up by a rave. There’s also Coyle’s captivating performance, and he leaves the impression that he should anchor more movies. And then there’s Buric. Buric is an absolute delight in both movies, and while he doesn’t break the mold of the gangster (he does that in Refn’s I’m the Angel of Death: Pusher III), he’s still a darkly comic presence in a movie that sometimes could use a laugh.
Prieto has handcuffed himself to Refn’s movie, so the remake of Pusher will likely be forgotten since it never makes a strong case for why it should really exist. There are a few nice changes, like Bronson Webb having a different take on the character of Frank’s friend Tony, not that Mads Mikkelsen was bad, but the movie doesn’t need more mimics (Buric takes care of that). A side-by-side comparison of both movies would likely find a surprising amount of overlap if you ignore the different languages and cities. If reading subtitles was the reason you couldn’t get into Refn’s Pusher, than Prieto’s remake is an acceptable substitute. But locking it into London relegates the remake to simply being an above-average Brit-crime flick rather than breaking free of Refn’s breakout film.