It was 1996 when Nicolas Winding Refn made his directorial debut with Pusher, a film about a drug pusher with a debt that’s getting increasingly larger. It launched Refn’s career, and spawned two sequels, which he also directed. Now he’s turned his attention to remaking the series, serving as executive producer and moving the setting to London. The only problem is, like with many remakes, Pusher 2012 doesn’t really bring anything fresh to the table.
Gus Van Sant’s remake of Psycho suffered from the same problem. Even though Van Sant made it a shot-for-shot remake for the most part, he admits that his version of the Hitchcock classic lacks some of the dark undertones of the original. The Pusher remake is rather stylish, and is by no means a shot-for-shot remake, but it fails when given the chance to bring anything new to the story. The change in location to London merely makes it another in the long line of mundane gangster films. The drug pusher at the heart of the film is from the same species of previous big screen incarnations of drug pushers.
Frank (Richard Coyle) lives a life of flashy nightclubs and easy money. As we observe a week in his life, we see him interact with reptilian mob boss Milo (Zlatko Buric) who gives him a kilo of cocaine to sell. However, when the police catch Frank out, he’s forced to get rid of the cocaine by throwing it into a lake. This leaves Frank with a £45,000 debt, and the local enforcers are closing in, cracking their knuckles and threatening to cut bits of Frank’s anatomy off. They don’t beat around the bush these people.
While the majority of the film is a repeat of the usual London gangster film, Richard Coyle does a very good job with the material he’s given. He makes Frank much more sympathetic that he was in the original Danish film. Frank’s life before the foul up with the cocaine is an enviable one, essentially living life at an easy going pace. And while Coyle is also much more refined and upmarket than the original Frank, we do find ourselves emotionally connected with him. We don’t want to see him suffer at the hands of Milo’s goons. That in itself is a rather notable victory.
Zlatko Buric essentially does what he does best; embodying a reptilian charm. You never know if he’s going to hug you and tell you you’re like a son to him, or threaten to remove limbs. He’s the only person who reprises his role from the original film, so for fans of the original trilogy it will bring a smile to their to see him here. Frank is also accompanied along the way by his mistress Flo (Agyness Deyn), who works as a pole dancer. Deyn is perhaps a little too clean cut and angelic to be a pole dancer, but given Coyle’s performance this could be an attempt to make her more emotionally engaging. There’s nothing wrong with that, but at some point realism has to take over.
It’s unknown how much involvement Nicolas Winding Refn had whilst serving as the executive producer. If he’s like a typical Hollywood producer, then his involvement will have been nothing more than his name on the posters and trailers to try and pull the audience in. It’s the screenwriter Matthew Read though who deserves at least a little credit. He writes quite a few genuinely heartbreaking moments in a film where you don’t generally find them. More effort is made to illustrate what Frank is like a person before he plunges himself into a nihilistic underworld.
At the heart of the film does lie a lesson that many gangster films have attempted to illustrate before. While Milo may seem a charming man to begin with, telling Frank’s he’s “like a son to me”, as soon as the drug deal goes awry he wouldn’t think twice about torturing and killing him. Loyalty will always take a back seat to money is this world, and that’s something that Frank finds difficult to comprehend.
Director Luis Prieto does bring a hefty amount of style to the film with some rather engaging cinematography, but you can’t help but feel that this could have been so much more. It is able to pack an emotional punch in a way most gangster movies fail to, but in the end it is all just a little too grim. It may get some fairly solid numbers from the box office (no doubt thanks to Refn’s name), but with a remake like this you expect to find something that advances on the original story. If anything, this is a bit of a step backwards.
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