Pusher: Filmart Review

Pusher - H 2012
Richard Coyle and a strong supporting cast lend interest to a London-set remake of Nicolas Winding Refn’s 1996 Danish gangster thriller.

The first English-language picture by Spanish director Luis Prieto updates the 1996 Danish thriller to London.

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 Pusherstruggles to rise above standard drug dealer/gangster fare and succeeds, but only in part, thanks to its strong cast lead 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. U.S. rights have been acquired by the Weinsteins for their VOD-oriented label Radius-TWC, and video seems the most probable outlet after a European theatrical run.

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 hot-head out of scrapes. At home, Frank is shacked up with Flo (Agness 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 Pusherturns into an actors’ showcase, the actors’ 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.

Cinematopher 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 night clubs, 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 c/o British electronic band Orbital.

Venue: Hong Kong Filmart, March 20, 2012.
Production companies: Vertigo Films in association with Embargo Films
Cast: Richard Coyle, Agyness Deyn, Bronson Webb, Mem Ferda, Zlatko Buric, Paul Kaye
Director: Luis Prieto
Screenwriter: Matthew Read
Producers: Rupert Preston, Christopher Simon, Felix Vossen, Huberta von Liel
Executive producer: Nicolas Winding Refn
Director of photography: Simon Dennis
Production designer: Sarah Webster
Costumes: Alexandra Mann
Editor: Kim Gaster
Music: Paul Hartnoll, Phil Hartnoll, Orbital
Sales Agent:  Gaumont International
No rating, 100 minutes.