Luis Prieto’s Pusher (2012) is a vigorous British remake of Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s 1996 breakthrough hit of the same name. Starring Richard Coyle (his second appearance at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival – the other being the warmly-received Irish horror Grabbers) Prieto’s visually boisterous film takes the gritty social realism of a British gangster film and attempts to breath new life into this increasingly familiar sub-genre.
Frank (Coyle) is a small time drug dealer with big ambitions. However, when an old acquaintance from Pentonville Prison offers him a lucrative business deal, he bites off more than he can chew – agreeing to shift £45k worth of cocaine in one swift and seemingly simple transaction. Unsurprisingly, things don’t go well and Frank quickly finds himself left without either the drugs or the money and in debt to the Turkish mafia. As time runs out, Frank becomes increasingly desperate, leading to him partaking in a spiral of increasingly brutal acts in order to gather the cash required to save his life.
Coyle’s performance is one of Pusher’s few redeeming features. Skilfully traversing the film’s incredibly clichéd script and thinly-drawn characterisations, he succeeds in making this horribly detestable man into a mildly engaging protagonist. However, whilst Coyle manages to entice some semblance of vivaciousness from this simplistic narrative, the rest of the film’s cast don’t fare quite so well – especially the ludicrously malevolent Turkish gangsters and the subservient, sexually-exploited women (British model Agyness Deyn among them).
The central question behind this unnecessary remake isn’t whether Refn’s Danish crime drama needed to be remade, but rather whether British cinema really needs another drug-fuelled gangster film. The answer is clearly no, with no degree of visual panache able to gloss over this uninspiring film and its tediously familiar story. An anti-drug story that simultaneously manages to glorify drug-taking, Pusher may have been produced by Refn, but lacks any of this provocative director’s flare for genre cinema. All that remains from Refn’s distinctive style is his reliance on violence and overly-stylised visuals, culminating in a cheaply-constructed, carbon copy of a European cult favourite.
Shallow and forgettable, Prieto’s Pusher is a monotonous and repugnant experience whose garish visual embellishments fail to mask what is ultimately a pointless and utterly nauseating film.
The 66th Edinburgh International Film Festival takes place from 20 June-1 July, 2012. For more of our EIFF 2012 coverage, simply follow this link.