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.