Pusher (2012)

Starring: Richard Coyle, Bronson Webb, Agyness Deyn, Mem Ferda, Zlatko Buric, Paul Kaye, Bill Thomas, Neil Maskell, Daisy Lewis, Joanna Hole, Shend.

Director: Luis Prieto
Rating: R (for pervasive drug content and language, some strong sexuality, nudity and violence.)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Date: October 26, 2012
Home Video Release Date: TBD
North American Box Office: $TBD

Embargo Films, Vertigo Films, and RADiUS-TWC.

Written by: Matthew Read, adapted from the 1996 film and screenplay, “Pusher”, as written by Jens Dahl and Nicolas Winding Refn.
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1/2 (out of 5 stars)

The much maligned remake.  Alas, they are prevalent and unrelenting in Hollywood, but as Pusher reminds us, ideas just might be coming in short supply in other parts of the world now as well.  Originally, Pusher was Nicolas Winding Refn’s feature-length writing and directorial debut, and back in 1996 the film wowed and dazzled festival audiences and the international film community.  Now, Pusher has emerged as something of a cult classic.  Spawning two sequels, which Refn likewise wrote and directed in 2004 and 2005, The Pusher Trilogy has a legion of fans who love the unflinching violence, groundbreaking cinematic style and technique on display, and love to revisit the films time and time again.

Excluding a Hindi interpretation of the film in 2010, Refn serves as the Executive Producer of this remake of his seminal work, turning the reigns over to Spanish filmmaker Luis Prieto, and his screenplay to Matthew Read, who has worked primarily as a television producer in the United Kingdom for the last 15 years or so.  Why Refn entrusted this duo to take a fresh look at his work is anyone’s guess.  As one might expect, the results fail to measure up to the original material.  

Pusher follows Frank (Richard Coyle), an intense but fairly level-headed drug dealer who is at the onset of having a pretty terrible week.  Initially, things are good, or as good as can be expected in this line of work.  His best friend, Tony (Bronson Webb), loves the party life and is a reckless, carefree addict, who often hangs with Frank and his stripper girlfriend, Flo (Agyness Deyn).

Frank looks to make a definitive upward progression in his career once he is contacted about acquiring a massive amount of cocaine for a thug named Marlon (Neil Maskell).  Eyeing the windfall this may bring him, Frank puts the hard sell on his boss, Milo (Zlatko Buric, reprising his role from Refn’s original film), who begrudgingly provides the kilo of cocaine, which would allow the transaction to take place.  At the time and place that the deal is set to go down, police descend upon the location and Frank bails.  With officers in pursuit, Frank has no choice but to destroy the cocaine, leaping into a lake to avoid arrest.  Naturally that decision has far-reaching and life-threatening implications and Frank must find a way to repay the money he has now lost for his boss, or face dire consequences.

The overriding issue with this version of Pusher is how quite unremarkable the film plays.  Pusher, in 1996, was innovative and game-changing, arriving around the same time as Danny Boyle’s iconic Trainspotting; two films which reintroduced the drug culture film as brash, provocative, and distinctive from the gang-oriented trappings present within the genre.  While the original Pusher spawned two sequels, this version, while never boring, is simply uneventful, never bringing anything new or novel to the table. Even when a good performance exists in the film, as you get from Richard Coyle’s combustible lead performance, it instantly disappears from memory when the credits begin to appear.

Certainly there was no need to remake this, at least from what can be ascertained from this final cut.  The film employs all the cliche drug-culture movie trademarks of hot lighting, frenetic editing, and a thumping electro-score, this time from house music legends Orbital, and always to lackluster effect.  In fact, Pusher is a bit boring and quite predictable, with that predictability hampering the experience, even if you have no knowledge or exposure to the source material.

By the time desperation arrives for Frank, and bad things begin happening to those in his life, Pusher embraces mediocrity.  A well executed conclusion to the film involving Frank and Flo’s story notwithstanding, Pusher fails to connect and is nothing more than simply a movie…that I watched…for 86 minutes.

SHOULD I SEE IT?
YES
  • Those who like gritty, British crime dramas will have another new film to dive into.
  • I would like to think that fans of the Nicolas Winding Refn film will be interested in this, but a sizable backlash against this remake exists, so I am not sure about that.
  • Luis Prieto is no Nicolas Winding Refn by any stretch.  But he does show signs that he may be a filmmaker to keep our eyes on.
NO
  • If your one complaint is something along the lines of, “Why does this exist?”  I agree and offer no response.
  • Really?  Another drug-deal-goes-bad movie?  I am exhausted with this subgenre of criminal movies that all have an edgy, bright look to them, and all seem to exist in and around the same five nightclubs and converted old warehouses.  Yawn.
  • If you are going to watch this, watch Refn’s original instead.  It is better, was the first of its kind for the Danish film community, and launched the career of one of the more exciting and polarizing filmmakers around right now.