Riding the coattails of the popular – and far superior – Brit crime films of the late 90s is practically a cottage industry in the United Kingdom. For evidence of that, you need only look at the countless rip-offs and imitators that cropped in the wake of Guy Ritchie’s breakout 1998 film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Not that some of these Ritchie derivatives weren’t good movies, but for every Layer Cake there were ten Bonded By Bloods. What these films lack in original style, they more than make up for with Cockney-flavoured cursing and tasteless ultraviolence.
But you can only lead a horse to water so many times – Hell, even Ritchie is ripping himself off these days! The fookin’ well has bloody dried up, as some toothy London gangster might say. Mashups like Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block, Ben Wheatley’s excellent Kill List, and recent Toronto After Dark award winner Cockneys vs Zombies have helped to extend the life of the modern Brit crime film, at least in some form, but those films have obviously tweaked the formula in some very noticeable ways (see: aliens, cults, and the undead). The pure form of the genre, such that it is, still has its stalwarts though. However, instead of mining original homegrown properties – which are in increasingly short supply – the imitators have now turned their gaze toward continental Europe.
As one might expect, the flashy UK remake of Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s first feature film ends up being a mostly pointless exercise, adding a tonne of shallow style but very little substance to the proceedings. Director Luis Prieto pushes the source material through that Ritchie gangster movie filter, and in the process robs his remake of the gritty naturalism that made the rough around the edges original work. Transplanting the action from the grey streets of Copenhagen to the neon clubs of London, Prieto’s crime drama follows the structure of the Drive director’s first Pusher film to a tee.
The film chronicles a very bad week in the life of cocaine-dealer Frank (played by Andy Serkis doppelganger Richard Coyle), whose hard-partying life is thrown into chaos after a transaction gone wrong. Up to his ears in debt with the wrong people, Frank’s attempts to get his head above water become increasingly desperate and dangerous. Coyle and the rest of the cast manage to keep things watchable, but that said, Pusher will feel awfully familiar to anyone who has seen the 1996 version – tracksuits, gold chains, and all. The only marked difference is the remake’s more frantic pacing and over usage of dub step. Neither of which are improvements. Adding to that familiarity is a returning face – the always wonderful Zlatko Burić, who reprises/replays the role of Serbian drug kingpin Milo in a bit of ill-conceived fan service.
Most suspected that the cult status quickly earned by Refn’s Drive would lead to a slew of knock offs, but being so blatant as to plumb the depths of the director’s earlier Danish movies just smacks of some producer saying “How can we make money off of Drive?!” As a fan of the original trilogy of films, I desperately wanted to like this film. But Prieto’s remake clearly isn’t intended for fans of those movies, which begs the question of just who exactly is it for? Folks who still get a kick out of Ritchie-style crime movies? Do those people even exist anymore? Though Refn produced this updated version, Pusher can only be recommended to those who have an extreme aversion to Danish-language films/subtitles or who just discovered Snatch. The movie.