‘Pusher’ is a remake that makes one long for the original

Richard Coyle in 'Pusher'
Richard Coyle in ‘Pusher’

The trend toward remaking great films from Scandinavia continues with this remake of the 1996 Danish film Pusher, which was so successful it spawned two sequels.  At least I’m told the original was great.  I didn’t see that original film, but I’m told by people whose opinions I value highly that it is a terrific.  It’s on my list of movies to watch.

Sadly the same can’t be said for this remake helmed by Luis Prieto and starring Richard Coyle as “Frank”, the central character in this 89 minute drama that follows one week in the life of a drug dealer in London.  It isn’t the usual London of film, but non-touristy locations that we don’t normally see on a big screen and that’s one of the few things that works in the film’s favor.

Frank owes one of his drug suppliers, “Milo” (Zlatko Buric) 3,000 pounds.  Interestingly, as the film opens, he closes a deal where he earns just that amount, but for some reason he chooses not to pay this money to Milo.  Instead, because his best friend “Tony” (Bronson Webb) has just connected him with “Hakan” (Mem Ferda), someone Ralph knew back in the day.  So Ralph borrows a kilo of coke from Milo. The deal is he will go and sell the coke and come right back with the money.  Tony is a goofy twit and doesn’t seem like much of an asset in Frank’s operation, rather he appears to be ultimately a liability.

The deal goes wrong when the bobbies arrive.  Ralph flees and manages to dispose of the merchandise (the English word for coke is apparently “gear”) and the cops eventually let him go.  But not before convincing him that it was Tony who ratted him out.  He administers a beating to Tony that nearly kills him as a result, ending their friendship.

Agyness Deyn and Richard Coyle in 'Pusher'
Agyness Deyn and Richard Coyle in ‘Pusher’

Now he owes Milo a lot of money and he’s desperate to get it.  He had another deal coming together because “Danaka” (Daisy Lewis) is in Amsterdam to smuggle more coke for him to sell back into England.  But Milo, who is incredibly patient for a crime boss, won’t wait forever.  The pressure is on, and it is ratcheted up when Milo’s thugs begin following Frank around.

In the background is Ralph’s girlfriend, “Flo” (Agyness Deyn) who adores Ralph.  She and he both have problems with using drugs, but she seems willing to forgive almost anything he says or does, so deeply is she enamored of him.

The life of Ralph is spiraling out of control over this week and that’s the first flaw in the story.  It begins with Ralph being shown as a no-nonsense kind of drug dealer.  He’s tough, ruthless and unyielding as demonstrated when someone tries to negotiate him down on the price of a deal.  Meanwhile, he’s using his own product and that usage seems to increase over the course of the week seen on screen.  He makes dumber and dumber decisions until at the end when he makes the most moronic call of all.

Milo is a caricature of a criminal.  Real drug supplies don’t cut the people they work with that kind of slack and also don’t hire thugs dumb enough to hand loaded shotguns to people they just gave a beat-down to.  The film takes place over the course of a week and either Milo only owns one suit, or he has six of them in the same color, with the same stitching problems on them.  Considering his front is a shop that sells wedding dresses, that’s highly unlikely.

The music the film uses is decent, and the pacing is fine.  I’m certain that the story was told in a much better fashion in the original, but here it just doesn’t work.  There is one terrific scene where “Flo” is shooting up in the fashion of real heroin users and its rawness give it a brief moment of stark realism that’s out of place with the rest of this hokey semi-homage to Trainspotting and the directorial style (or lack thereof) of Michael Bay.  There is little to recommend Pusher.  It isn’t even Trainspotting “lite”.  It’s worse than that.

I can only recommend doing what I intend to do.  Check out the original and pass on the remake.

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