Wanted: Crooks with character
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, October 26, 2012
Think you’ve had a bad week? Be glad you’re not Frank. The titular, er, hero of “Pusher” is just trying to make it to the weekend without getting kneecapped.
A watchable, if cliched, British remake of a 1996 crime drama by Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (“Drive”), “Pusher” tells the story of a small-time drug dealer who, over seven days, loses a kilo of cocaine in a lake, gets arrested, witnesses a violent suicide, gets ripped off by one of his foreign connections and is pursued by a violent gangster, to whom he owes 55,000 British pounds.
Played by Richard Coyle, who looks a bit like Kenneth Branagh’s little brother, Frank is a likable enough guy to hang a movie on, at least for someone who hangs out with junkies, prostitutes, drug couriers, thugs and other disreputable types. He’s simply a small businessman like many others, even if the people he does business with are the sort who say, “Step into my office,” and then lead him into a public restroom stall.
When a routine deal with a buyer (Neil Maskell) is interrupted by police, Frank bolts, dumping the drugs in a lake. He’s arrested, but not charged, which is the last piece of good news Frank gets in an increasingly nasty, nerve-wracking series of events. The worst news of all is that the supplier who gave him the coke, Milo (Zlatko Buric, who played the same creepy role in the 1996 film), wants his money back now. And Milo has ways of collecting -- not to mention a sadistic collector (Mem Ferda) -- that leave delinquent customers with permanent limps, on top of late fees.
If only Frank can get in touch with the woman (Daisy Lewis) who is supposed to be bringing another drug shipment back to him from Amsterdam, and find the time to sell it, everything should be hunky-dory.
Don’t bet on it.
Working from a script by Matthew Read (inspired by Refn’s original), Spanish-born director Luis Prieto tells the tale well enough, considering it’s heading in a familiar, noirishly downward direction for much of the time and is marked by the sort of drug-movie tropes we’ve seen a hundred times before. Every other scene seems to take place in a strip joint at 4 a.m. Guns are sold from the trunk of a car out of cases that appear to have back-lit linings. And Frank’s girlfriend, Flo (Agyness Deyn), is a foxy hooker -- excuse me, escort, as she points out. Naturally she has a heart of gold.
Well, gold-plated, anyway.
Other than Flo, no one is especially sympathetic here, with the possible exception of Frank. At one point, he brutally beats up his best friend and flunkie (Bronson Webb), whom Frank suspects of setting him up. Along with other examples of bad behavior, this makes it a little difficult to care terribly deeply about what happens to the guy.
The film’s title, of course, refers to selling drugs -- don’t do it, kids -- but it also suggests that Frank is forced by circumstance into doing things he doesn’t want to do. In the same way, we’re pushed into a corner, too, left to cheer someone simply because there’s really no one else to root for.
Contains profanity, violence, sex, drug use and nudity.