Pusher Hits All the Right Beats and Delivers a Solid High

Pusher is an incredibly high charged drama about a week in the life of a moderately successful small time drug dealer in London who gets in way over his head and finds that he has to behave in ways he’d never thought possible in order to save himself by any means necessary. Directed by second time feature filmmaker Luis Prieto, Nicolas Winding Refn of Drive fame executive produced this remake of his own film made 16 years earlier. The collaboration results in an edge of your seat ride through the viscerally gritty underbelly of London’s drug world with the most charismatic anti-hero since Steve McQueen in The Getaway.

Richard Coyle stars as Frank (our anti-hero), a low level thug just getting by pushing drugs to the down and out buyers in his neighborhood. He’s a good man to dogs, old people, his stripper girlfriend (Agyness Deyn) and kooky friend (Bronson Webb). However, Frank does have a dark side when provoked. One that has served him well when buyers hesitate to pay or a bunch of club goers try to beat up his friend. Now Frank will discover just how dark he can be when a simple plan to make an easy score goes terribly wrong and he must make amends or die trying.

The plot is a simple one and has been done again and again (three times by Refn alone), and yet Prieto manages to keep the story fresh and engaging as if it were the first time anyone has ever presented this slice of the world on the big screen. Perhaps it’s because the action all takes place within the span of a week. Or perhaps it’s because Prieto refuses to glamorize any of the characters. They all do their own drugs and are captives of the disheveled surroundings in which they have placed themselves. Even the supplier (Zlatko Burl reprising his role from the Danish trilogy) lives in a depressing dump that looks more like the waiting room for unemployment than the home office of a successful drug dealer.

The main reason the overused story line feels so fresh and new is because of the powerful performance provided by Coyle who slowly and expertly reveals the more and more desperate layers of his character as his life unravels. The pressure he experiences virtually oozes from his pores as he stoops lower and lower to save his own hide. I don’t like to give away stories so I won’t go into detail, but lets just say that whatever code of conduct Frank started out with is diminished to a vague memory when his supplier violently shifts his attitude from an inconvenienced associate to mortal enemy. Forced into an uncompromising corner, Frank spends the remaining fragments of his soul without a molecule of hesitation right up to the last moment of the last frame of the film.

Full of dark and dangerous moments, Prieto manages to pepper Pusher with just the right amount of humor at the right times while never losing the feel of a vibrantly chaotic world. Supported by seamless cinematography and a score provided by Orbital that pulls you into the streets of London, Pusher will leave you feeling that this is the one Refn has been aiming for – this is the Pusher he always wanted to make. There’s no need for anymore more remakes. If anything you’ll leave the theater longing for a sequel.

Already available on VOD, Pusher opens in New York and LA October 26. But don’t worry. A wide release is planned soon. For your sake I hope it’s very soon.

Almost Perfect is Less Than Promised

It’s very hard to produce a high quality, entertaining low budget independent feature. The ones that succeed usually make it look so easy, and the ones that don’t make it appear as if it were an impossible goal. In my opinion Almost Perfect lands somewhere in the middle but far closer to the latter than the former, which is really too bad since the film didn’t have to end up that way. However, that’s usually the fate of most movies under the helm of a relatively inexperienced director, and Bertha Bay-Sa Pan falls firmly into that category.

Yup, I’m gonna have to place the blame here on the sophomore director who also happens to be the writer. That’s not always a bad thing (Frank Darabont and The Green Mile) except in this case the story and its presentation really could have benefited from another set of eyes. Collaboration is a key factor in avoiding self-indulgence in filmmaking, and without it you get a lot of bad choices from the script (it’s never a good idea to have the main character in every scene) to performances. The acting could be blamed on the actors, except in this case you’ve got a lot of talent who have been good in other projects giving sub-par performances, so it’s got to be the director. I mean, let’s just call it like it is.

Ivan Shaw is an exception as the utterly charming love interest, but he is wasted as the wannabe lover who appears to put up with a lot. It doesn’t really seem like that much while it’s happening, but then his dialogue at one point tells us that it is (see what I mean about the script? Whatever happened to “show, not tell”?). Sadly, Shaw’s appeal is diminished by Kelly Hu’s lack-luster interpretation of a woman put to the test by her demanding family who feels guilty about exposing her man to such horrors. Although it’s not all that horrific – we’re just supposed to think that it is because, well, Hu stresses out over it. At least I think she’s stressing. She does stay home from work and sulks on the couch. At least I think she’s sulking. It’s hard to tell. No doubt some big budget Hollywood film will come knocking for Shaw, but I have absolutely no similar hopes for Kelly Hu who lacks a range (any range) of emotion.

On the other hand, it’s always a delight to see Roger Rees in whatever he appears. And even though his role here is somewhat annoyingly vague as well as cliché he manages to bring to it a quality that is so likable that it transcends the faults of his poorly constructed character. The other supporting characters on the other hand lack the depth beyond the two dimensional page upon which they were written. The brother (Edison Chen) is so vaguely drawn that’s it’s impossible to form an opinion one way or the other about him. And Tina Chen as the mother is so annoying and completely one dimensional that it’s difficult to believe she has been a Golden Globe, Emmy and Drama Desk nominee. She comes off as a complete shrew for so long that by the time we figure out that her husband must have wronged her it’s too late for us to have any sympathy. Why keep it a secret?

All in all, Almost Perfect really misses the mark on so many levels I’m surprised the filmmakers didn’t reconsider the title. After all, they’re just asking for some obvious reaction comments from critics, and disappointment from audiences. Maybe next time the filmmakers won’t aim so high, and settle for less than perfect. Or even, just alright. I could have been on board with either one of those titles.