Editor’s note: The Pusher remake hits limited screens today, so please imbibe this quality review from our Fantastic Fest coverage, first posted on September 30, 2012.
Despite what many movie fans might tell you, remakes are not inherently evil. Some movies had good ideas but couldn’t execute them properly, some could use a facelift, and some were great the first time but simply fell victim to the studio’s desire to cash in. Remakes have a bit of a tough road. First off, the they need to do what any movie needs to do: put together a good story and good performances with good cinematography. These are simply the basic building blocks of good films. But a remake has baggage, it has people’s expectations hoisted upon it. And so a remake, unlike a film based on an original idea, must also justify its own existence. Sadly, Luis Prieto’s Pusher only manages to accomplish one of the two.
Frank (Richard Coyle) is a pretty shrewd businessman, and his business just happens to be drugs. He’s smart about it though, keeps a low profile, deals only to people he knows, and stashes money and gear at Flo’s place, Flo (Agyness Deyn) being his sometimes girlfriend, confidant, and shoulder to lean on. His best friend Tony (Bronson Webb) is more of a wild card, a silly guy with a big mouth, the type of guy who ends up getting his friends in trouble.
When an acquaintance from Frank’s brief prison stint resurfaces to make a big buy, Frank is initially skeptical. But the easy money seems too good to pass up. So he goes to Milo (Zlatko Buric), a local gangster and drug supplier, and works out a deal to take the gear on credit and bring the money right back. But when the police break up the deal, Frank loses the money and the dope and finds himself in huge debt to Milo with his time running out.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher was an impressive debut feature. Refn, who wrote and directed the 1996 crime flick, showcased his already burgeoning assuredness behind the camera, directing a tight, fast-paced film that built tension well. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects was getting a glimpse into the Danish underworld, a place that still hasn’t found its way on to American movie screens very often. Unfortunately, the remake relocates to London, whose underworld has been immortalized by Guy Ritchie and bastardized by his copycats. Its one of the first mistakes that makes the Pusher remake hard to justify.
While the location has been shown many times, the update to the glitz and glamour of modern lights works just fine. The bright lights and glitter of the clubs highlights the bright, frivolous world of the high-end drug users and highlights the growing gap between the haves and have-nots. Frank is initially welcomed into this world because of the service he provides and is subsequently forced to attack it as an outsider when his chips are down.
Prieto’s Pusher, taken on its own merits, is a pretty good film. It’s well shot and extremely well-acted, particularly by Deyn, whose Flo communicates so much with her beautiful eyes. The score is also quite apt and the film is well-paced. Unfortunately, it hits almost all the same notes as the original, from set-up to ending, and does little to distinguish itself as a separate film.
The Upside: Richard Coyle is strong as Frank and Agyness Deyn is fantastic as Flo, the update to modern London works for the story.
The Downside: Hits most of the same beats as the original, doesn’t strike enough new ground to justify its own existence.
On the Side: Zlatko Buric played the gangster Milo in Refn’s original film, as well as in this UK remake.