Luis Prieto’s “Pusher” is a remake of the 1996 cult classic of the same name. I’m not familiar with the original “Pusher,” so I am unable to compare and contrast the two films or tell you which is “better.” I am generally of the mind that remakes are at best unnecessary, (and at worst, sacrilegious). I gave “Pusher” (2012) the benefit of the doubt because Nicolas Winding Refn (“Bronson,” “Drive”), director of the original film, gave his stamp of approval in the form of executive producer. I will forever trust Refn’s aesthetic because “Drive” was not only my favorite film of 2011, it has made my list of all-time favorites. While “Pusher” (2012) didn’t quite meet my perhaps unreasonably high expectations, watching this film is not a bad way to spend an evening.
The story is relatively action-packed in that moody European kind of way. There aren’t any explosions, but the life of our anti-hero, Frank (Richard Coyle), is constantly on the line as he attempts to pay back £55,000 to a very bad man. When we first meet Frank, he is living easy in the London underworld. He’s not exactly flush with cash, but he makes enough with his small-time coke peddling to work short hours and party away the rest of them. It’s when he attempts to aim a little higher that everything goes awry. Never try.
Frank seems like a congenial fellow at first. He tolerates his high-strung, ever-present chum, Tony (Bronson Webb), even though Tony’s mouthiness often makes conducting business more challenging. He is tender toward his beautiful stripper girlfriend, Flo (Agyness Deyn), whom he clearly trusts. But as Frank becomes more desperate and his options run out, he is increasingly willing to compromise any scruples he might have once possessed. This is a man who really wants to stay alive. You don’t really know yourself until your life is on the line. After a certain point, Frank has burned so many bridges that even if he does find the money, he will never be able to go back to his old life.
The themes explored in “Pusher” aren’t uncharted territory. If I had a nickel for every movie about a guy who owes money to bad people, I would have… a sizeable amount of nickels. But, for the most part, the actors make what they’re doing seem fresh. Zlatko Buric reprises his role as Milo, the calmly merciless drug lord who wants his money already. Coyle brings ample pathos to his role, making the audience care about Frank more than he deserves.
Flo, on the other hand, is a woefully underdeveloped character, amounting to little more than a prop. But that isn’t necessarily Deyn’s fault. Her tousled hair, pouty lips, impossibly long legs and two-dimensional personality are reminiscent of a 90s comic book girlfriend. To me, that suggests that they didn’t think much beyond getting a lady into the story.
The soundtrack, by Orbital, adds to the frantic tone, vaguely evoking the ever-present suspense of “Run Lola Run.” Coming in at just under 90 minutes, “Pusher” (2012) also gets props for keeping the story tight. I can’t imagine this one reaching the same cult status as the original. But perhaps, as it did me, it will inspire people to seek out the source material.