Zlatko Buric and Richard Coyle in Pusher
With the relative success of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, I suppose it’s inevitable a producer would scour the Danish director’s filmography for a gritty gem that could be reworked for an English speaking audience. That’s what’s happened with the crime-thriller Pusher, Refn’s low budget 1996 bid to break into the movie business which proved popular enough to generate a couple of sequels. This time, Spanish director Luis Prieto takes over the directorial duties while Refn is the hands-off executive producer. If you’ve already seen the original, there’s really nothing new to see here. If you haven’t, Pusher is a serviceable enough crime flick that should appeal to fans of the genre.
Richard Coyle is Frank, a drug dealer who seems to have it all. Little does Frank know, however, he’s about to have a really bad week. When a drug deal goes bad, Frank runs afoul of some people to whom he owes a lot of money. Can Frank stay one step ahead and get the cash before a gang of Eastern European thugs run out of patience with him?
Much slicker than Refn’s rough-around-the-edges original, Prieto’s version hits the right genre beats, but it lacks that certain energy that drew everyone to Refn’s in the first place. Coyle is a charismatic enough gangster so that you almost care what happens to him, and supermodel Agyness Deyn is an interesting presence as Frank’s stripper/junkie girlfriend, but the film never makes a compelling case for its own existence. It happens and then it’s over and then you forget about it.
That’s not to say Pusher is bad, it just never really asserts itself in a memorable way. It feels like a quick way to make a buck off people who can’t be troubled to read Danish subtitles. There isn’t a single surprise or a note of freshness that demands you sit up and pay attention. It doesn’t even have anyone as magnetic as Mads Mikkelsen who played the sidekick in the original.
The best part of Pusher in fact is Zlatko Buric who reprises his role as Milo, the kingpin chasing Frank, from the original trilogy. Buric has a fun knack for swinging back and forth between humor and menace. He’s a likable guy unless you cross him and then you’re in trouble. Is he enough of a force to carry an entire movie? No, but he’s something at least and the one truly memorable element.
If you love energetic thrillers set among the thugs and lowlifes of the criminal underworld, you could certainly do a lot worse than this. You could also do a lot better.
Pusher is now playing on VOD and opens Friday, October 26th in limited theatrical release.
Filed under: Review