This remake of Pusher is tough to review, only because the original film, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn in 1996, is one of my favorite movies of all time. It has already been made by once, considered the “Hindi” remake, even though it was filmed in England with mostly British actors. Now, an Italian director (Luis Prieto) has tackled a remake, starring Richard Coyle as Frank, a down-on-his-luck drug dealer in London. Oddly, the film’s “villian”, Milo, is played by the same actor (Zlatko Buric) as the original film, leaving me to believe that the producers felt he was the only person that is able to do the character justice. However, the fact that his performance in this film is a toned-down version of the original character puzzles me to no end. Frank’s best friend Tony (Bronson Webb) has been aged down considerably, and turned into a bit of a pip-squeak, whereas Mads Mikkelson brought an eerie intensity to the character in the original film that heightened the drama as well as made Milo seem all the more dangerous.
Frank has a problem. Already in debt to his drug distributor Milo, he makes a chance deal with with an old prison buddy, Marlon (played by Kill List‘s Neil Maskell), but in order to make the deal, he has to take the drugs on consignment from Milo, who begrudgingly does so, on the condition that Frank pay him off immediately. Frank sees no problem, as he has a shipment coming in from Amsterdam, and the deal with Marlon will put him easily in the black. However, in one short week, Frank’s world crumbles when the deal with Marlon is blown by the cops, and his shipment from Amsterdam never arrives.
Frank is sent into a violent tailspin in order to pay off Milo, before his scary comrades come to end Frank for good. Kim Bodnia played Frank in the original, and made the character such a desperate skeez-ball that everything seemed infinitely desperate. Here, Richard Coyle makes Frank a likable fellow, and it’s hard too root against him, while Bodnia made it supremely easy. Now, I know more than anyone that a remake should be graded on its own merits, but while watching a remake of a film as great as Pusher, it’s hard not to do. It’s easier when the original was an average film, or when the remake brings something fresh to the table. There are noticeable differences in this version of Pusher, but they’re not really better, just different.
Still, this one does a lot of things right. There is some excellent location photography, and the cinematography as a whole is interesting and well done. London is well used as a seedy location for these under-the-table drug deals, but none of it matches the sincerity and intensity of Refn’s Copenhagen. As a result, everything feels a bit restrained, even the famously open-ending that never got answered in any of Refn’s sequels. Here, however, it seems more like a non-ending, rather than an open-ended one, and I believe that is because the rest of the film lacks the intensity and character work of Refn’s original.
All that said, it’s still an entertaining movie, probably even more so if you’ve never seen the original. However, if you have, you’ll be wondering why they changed certain things, and how the director failed to build the same intensity throughout the film’s run time. It’s an exciting, well made, well acted film on it’s own, and for those that love crime thrillers, this is one of the better ones. In the long run though, it just pales in comparison to Refn’s original film in every way, and the excellent sequels do a lot to flesh out the rest of the world of Pusher, so I suppose that impacts this remake as well. The only improvement that I saw was Agyness Deyn as Frank’s girlfriend. Deyn is uniquely beautiful, and plays the role with a quiet resolution that only adds dimension to Coyle’s Frank.
Not a bad film by any means, but it’s just tough to watch when you’ve seen it done miles better before. Like Rob Zombie‘s Halloween, I guess this one will only resonate with new audiences that are unwilling to watch the original film, but at least with Zombie’s Halloween, audiences get a wildly different film. The music in this film is another key factor, while it’s well used, it doesn’t have anything close to the note-by-note perfection that Refn’s film contained.