Drugs and gangster films are becoming more and more commonplace in British cinema. The latest is Pusher (2012) – Luis Prieto’s British remake of Nicolas Winding Refn’s 1996 cult hit of the same name – and thankfully it is one of the better drug-fuelled thrillers to be released in recent times. Frank (Richard Coyle) makes a steady amount of money from his life as a drug dealer. When he is approached by a former prison acquaintance for what could be his biggest deal yet, Frank is convinced it’s a sure thing.
However, things don’t go according to plan and he finds himself owing a lot of money to ruthless drug lord Milo (Zlatko Buric, reprising the role he played in Refn’s original). With time quickly running out, Frank grows increasingly desperate as he manically tries to acquire the money he needs to stay alive. Pusher boasts an energetic visual style; Crowded nightclubs are bathed in fluorescence, and Prieto’s aggressive, speed-changing camerawork is utilised to good effect.
Orbital’s thumping electronic soundtrack is also well-suited to Pusher’s fast pace, and the film’s seven-day structure only accentuates the speed of Frank’s downward spiral. Frank himself proves to be an engaging protagonist, and Coyle’s performance is worthy of more attention. The confident, play-it-cool Frank we meet initially makes the character likeable, and as his search for money wreaks havoc on his life and he slowly unravels we do feel for the character. Additionally, Buric’s Serbian gangster also entertains. What little comedy Pusher offers comes from him, but there’s no mistaking the threat that Milo and his enforcer Hakan (Mem Ferda) present.
Other characters are harder to warm to; Frank’s sidekick Tony (Bronson Webb) irritates more often than not, and his musings about drugs and women would have been better left unspoken. A violent encounter means that Tony is absent for the second half of the film, and instead there is a focus on Frank’s stripper girlfriend Flo (Agyness Deyn). Unfortunately, this relationship remains underdeveloped for almost the duration of the film, although the final scenes speak volumes about both characters.
Whether Pusher has done enough to distinguish itself from Refn’s original is up for debate but, thanks in no small part to an excellent central performance from Coyle, it makes for a decent British crime thriller.