‘Pusher’

Pusher sees Richard Coyle relax with  girlfriend Agyness DeynEverything that happens in “Pusher,” the story of a drug deal gone south, you see coming a mile away. The filmmakers don’t even pretend otherwise. Inevitability is written all over this one.

So about all the makers can do is make the thing go down with plenty of style and panache. Otherwise “Pusher” is pretty empty of purpose.

“Pusher” is an English-language remake of Nicolas Winding Refn’s 1996 cult Danish thriller of the same name. I’ve never seen it but have seen “Drive,” Refn’s most impressive American debut from 2011.

That was a smartly engineered exercise in cinematic style and existential angst disguised as crime fiction. I would love to see the original “Pusher” based on “Drive” — but not on this weak remake.

(On a side note, “Drive” was a film I required my Chapman University film production students to see in a course I taught last semester. This proved to be one of their favorite films as they were enthusiastic about Refn’s use of cinematic language and narrative design.)

The director whom Refn (who exec produces this film) trusted with his remake is the culturally versatile Luis Prieto, a Spanish-born, American trained (CalArts) filmmaker who has made films in Spain and Italy before shooting this film in London, his first foray into the English language.

Pusher's Zlatko Buric menaces Richard CoyleIt will make a good calling card for future English-language work as it’s a competently made thriller with stylish flourishes. Producers can therefore blame the by-the-numbers screenplay on its British writer, Matthew Read.

Richard Coyle plays Frank, an aging mid-level drug dealer who seemingly enjoys the good life. His world is non-stop parties, discos and strip clubs where everyone’s his friend and every doorman knows him.

He even has a loving girlfriend in a pole-dancer and junkie known as Flo (English model Agyness Deyn). His confidence and self-satisfaction tip you off that this won’t last long.

He owes a little money to a crime boss named Milo (Zlatko Burić, who played the role in the original film and its sequels). Just the way Milo kids around with Frank and calls him his “son” also tip you that this man won’t stay friendly long.

(Another side note: Why are the villains in European-based thrillers all coming from the Balkans these days? I have nothing against actors from Croatia — such as Burić — Albania or Serbia getting work but must they always play villains?)

Pusher's Richard Coyle drives around LondonFrank’s pal, Tony (Bronson Webb), who is a loose cannon but Frank doesn’t seem to observe this, sets him up with a guy wanting to make a big buy. The deal stinks the minute you hear it but, again, Frank doesn’t seem to notice.

Things go bust and now Frank owes Milo even more money, money he has no way to put together in the few days he’s given. So things go from bad to worse not only for Frank but Tony and Flo.

The downward spiral is so predictable that you have plenty of time to contemplate the real unanswered question in this movie: Why does a supposedly street-smart character like Frank not realize the nature of the trouble he is in?

Even up to the ambiguous ending Frank never seems to get that Milo’s knee-capping henchmen are eventually going to have to kill him. Perhaps he samples too much of his own product.

Prieto’s attention lies elsewhere — on the glistening surfaces of the film with its stylish editing, tricked-out cinematography (close-ups, speed-ramping, flickering), a production design that nicely contrasts grubby with sleek locations and a soundtrack pulsating with the techno sounds of the British electronic band Orbital.

I will say this though: Coyle is never less than engaging. You sympathize with his character even as he goes out of control. Deyn has her moments too and could be potential star material.

“Pusher is currently available On Demand and opens on October 12th.


Opens: October 12, 2012 (Radius TWC)
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
Based on a film by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Producers: Rupert Preston, Christopher Simon, Felix Vossen, Huberta von Liel
Executive producer: Nicolas Winding Refn
Director of photography: Simon Dennis
Production designer: Sarah Webster
Music: Paul Hartnoll, Phil Hartnoll, Orbital
Costumes: Alexandra Mann
Editor: Kim Gaster

R rating, 88 minutes.