Director: Luis Prieto
Starring: Richard Coyle, Zlatko Buric, Bronson Webb, Agyness Deyn, Mem Ferda
An English-language remake of “Drive” director Nicholas Winding Refn’s gritty 1996 Danish film of the same name, itself the first of a pulpy trilogy, crime drama “Pusher” has a neon-lit nervy energy — at once slick and grungy — and the sort of unabashed, screw-tightening rhythms that genre enthusiasts will embrace. As directed by Luis Prieto, it’s the tale of a drug pusher pushed too far — a man, caught up in a closing net of owed debt, resorting to desperate means that even he finds distasteful. It’s well acted and for the most part engaging, but also unfolds upon laid narrative track, without much originality.
Frank (Richard Coyle) is a low-level British narcotics dealer who pals around with the motor-mouthed Tony (Bronson Webb, channeling Rhys Ifans by way of Sam Rockwell). Frank’s exotic dancer girlfriend Flo (Agyness Deyn, who sort of recalls a young Kelly Preston) sells for him too, but Frank, perhaps naively, also has other schemes in the works. When he advances a kilo of cocaine from his Serbian supplier, Milo (Zlatko Buric, reprising his role from the Danish trilogy) to pull off a lucrative side deal, things unfortunately don’t go according to plan. Milo’s rising impatience finally makes him a mortal enemy, and Frank finds himself having to try to scrape together money from disparate sources in order to hold Milo’s burly enforcer (Mem Ferda) at bay.
“Pusher” more or less tracks with Refn’s original movie, but also variously recalls Guy Ritchie’s crime capers (though not as labyrinthine and outlandish), Andrew Dominik’s “Killing Them Softly” (though not as steeped in sociopolitical statement) and many, many other similar works. The movie, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, is stylishly photographed, and Pietro definitely finds a way to connect the action with his protagonist’s mental state, eventually even incorporating a few flash inserts to convey Frank’s increasing panic. (Alternately swirling and thumping music by techno maestros Orbital helps in this regard as well.)
Both wearied and panicked, Coyle’s performance is shot through with anxiety. He’s the film’s anchor — the rabbit who finds each new potential avenue of escape sealed off. But “Pusher” also feels familiar, and doesn’t so much build in tension as it does check off a series of second act boxes en route toward Frank’s attempted flight. There’s a soul here, but one wishes the film had pushed some of its characters even further, to explore more deeply its chaotic fringes.
Written by: Brent Simon