Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher films, three distinct yet interlocking tales from the Copenhagen underworld, formed a rare trilogy to get more impressive with each addition. With last year’s much-lauded Drive having attracted new and non-Scandinavian eyes to this highly versatile and dynamic filmmaker’s back catalogue, Refn’s longtime producers Vertigo Films have here optioned a English-language, London-set remake of the first Pusher - written by Matthew Read, and directed by trigger-happy newcomer Luis Prieto – that reminds one of the strengths of the first film, while functioning efficiently enough on its own terms.
This is an unusual crime story, and you can see why battle-hardened producers, in particular, have been repeatedly drawn to it. Its lead Frank (Richard Coyle here, very capably filling shoes previously filled by The Bridge’s Kim Bodnia) is neither a master criminal nor a lowly hood, but a middle-ranking grafter attempting over seven fateful days to stay on top of a multitude of petty problems and setbacks that threaten his livelihood. In this case, these will include a cabal of dodgy Mancunians, the mishaps of a wet-behind-the-ears assistant (Bronson Webb), and last but never least, the close attentions of Eastern European kingpin Milo (the unmatchably seedy Zlatko Buric, wisely retained from the original).
Even a twisted ankle and a dropped mobile phone have deleterious knock-on effects, and there remains a particular narrative compulsion in watching Frank’s working week going from bad to hellish; it’s still a potent gag that the weekend, a time of unbridled hedonism for the pusher’s coke-snorting clients, is where it begins to pile up for Frank himself – so much so that he’s driven to pop home to his mum’s. (The traditional day of rest will be anything but.) Even in this translation, Pusher remains a brutal, Darwinian universe, in which the weak don’t last long, and the women are chiefly decorous, or poledancers: ex-model Agyness Deyn takes lingering baths and shows off Agent Provocateur underwear as Frank’s moll. Still, it’s been adapted attentively, taking care to preserve the character nuance and moral undertow beneath its surface flash and pulsing Orbital soundtrack.
Pusher opens nationwide today.