“Never cross the line.”
Director: Luis Prieto
Cast: Richard Coyle, Bronson Webb, Agyness Deyn
Synopsis: In London, a street dealer’s life spins out of control over the course of one week after he borrows money from his supplier on what’s supposed to be a sure thing.
The trouble with making a remake of a well-regarded movie is that you immediate have an almost insurmountable built-in resistance amongst fans of the original. And because there already exists a very real benchmark against which the remake can be compared, critics and reviewers nearly always seem to be seeking any aspect of the new movie that falls short of the standards of the original so that, even though the remake may be a perfectly acceptable movie in its own right, it meets with widespread criticism. This appears to be the case with Luis Prieto’s version of Nicholas Winding Refn’s 1996 Danish crime drama Pusher, even though Refn acts as executive producer here. It just so happens that I haven’t seen the original Pusher, and therefore viewed Prieto’s version unencumbered by any bias towards the original. My verdict? A bloody good movie which stands head and shoulders above most British gangster movies made in the past ten years.
Richard Coyle, familiar to most British viewers at least from his appearance in the popular TV sit-com Coupling, plays against type here as Frank, a low-level drug pusher who, as the film begins, is about to enter the worst week of his life. Although he’s small time, Frank is good at what he does and enjoys the lifestyle his job affords him. He drives around town with his mate Tony (Bronson Webb) who, it has to be said, most self-respecting villains wouldn’t have anywhere near them. Right from the off you can tell that Tony is going to be trouble — which he duly turns out to be. Frank knows the doormen at all the best neon-strobed nightclubs, and is well-liked by those around him. He also has a knockout girlfriend, Flo (Agyness Deyn) who loves him dearly.
Life is good — but it can always be better, and when an opportunity to push £45,000 in one drop comes his way, Frank secures the merchandise from the comically genial Milo (Zlatko Buric, reprising his role from the original movie) with a promise that he will return with payment within an hour of making the sale. Inevitably, things go wrong. The police make an appearance just as the exchange is going down, and after a lengthy chase Frank has no choice but to dump the cocaine in a park lake while the chasing officers look on.
Although he evades the clutches of the law, Frank now has no drugs and no money, and must pay Milo the value of the drugs plus £3,000 he already owed, and an extra £7,000 for the trouble he has caused. If he fails to pay him the money, Frank is left in no doubt that his life will be over, and so he embarks on a frantic — and increasingly desperate — mission to raise the money.
Richard Coyle appears in almost every scene of Pusher, and he pretty much nails the role. He has a vaguely battered look about him that suits the part and possesses a kind of dangerous charisma that demands attention. His character provides a problem for the audience in that although he is a peddler of dope, a recognised villain in both the fictional world and the real one, he’s really quite a likeable bloke, despite a willingness to use violence when necessary. You get the impression that he could have been an honest man if circumstances had been different (although we’re given no back story), and that he would be a decent mate. So you find yourself rooting for him even though you know that you shouldn’t. Only when he shares the screen with Buric is Coyle overshadowed, and that’s simply because Milo is such a showy character. He’s likable too, to begin with, but, unlike Frank, we can tell straight away that there’s an inner viciousness behind the genial facade, and the way his attitude towards Frank instantly changes when the deal goes wrong merely confirms this. Perhaps the only weak link in the cast is Deyn, whose performance as Frank’s loyal girlfriend is way too understated so that she simply comes across as achingly dull.
While Pusher treads no new ground it follows a familiar path with panache and aplomb, and generates a real sense of the desperation that slowly envelopes Frank as things go from bad to worse, transforming him from that likeable bloke to an armed robber who is driven to destroy the soft life he has built merely to survive.