Fantastic Fest Review: Exploring Highs and Lows Through Prieto’s PUSHER Remake

April reviews the remake from Luis Prieto.

Spanish-born director Luis Prieto (Bamboleho) debuted his first English language film in the form of a remake this year, boldly taking on the oft-raved about late-nineties Danish gangster thriller of the same name by the unceasingly adroit Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson, Drive).

Harboring just about everything in common with its forefather (other than location), we now follow Frank, a London-based dope pusher, for a week’s time as the cloth both tales were cut from unravels. Once again confidence gives way to unforeseen complications, which result in grander complications and Richard Coyle’s (The Libertine and I’m sorry) spin through the downward spiral of selfishness could not be more captivating. His bullshit-piercing, weary of the world eyes slowly grow tired and haggard. His palpable desperation wreaks havoc on that confidence and I’ve never wanted to “Think, Mcfly. Think!” someone so hard. But we have no choice. We follow him on the one-way path on an inwardly emotional journey from petrified > blindly combative > just plain mad.

One of the film's most interesting initial relationships is between Frank and his sidekick, Tony - Bronson Webb of Game of Thrones. It's the prototypal pairing of the self-assured reacher and the over-confident clown, both trapped in each other's endless cycle of bravado. However, that magic is soon sadly lost upon Tony's public beating - one of the more jarring, violent scenes in a film that's full of them - as he then seems to be subsequently removed from the film entirely.

The rest of the cast fleshes out nicely. Zlatko Buric reprises his role as Milo, the eerily nurturing Serbian supplier of homemade baklava and hard drugs. At times he provides comic relief, but still always seems to wrap it in a blatant sense of familial affection for our Frank, which only seems to make it all the more unnerving when Milo soon bubbles over into exasperated darkness. Then there's Agyness Deyn as Flo, who seems like she was designed with deliberate Besson-ian sexual androgyny. While she's no stranger to success before the lens, her performance sadly never manages to venture much further beyond eye candy, which granted might also be a clever depiction of her role in Frank’s life as well.

Prieto's PUSHER is overtly stylized with its speed-ramping edits, florescent luminescence and propulsive backbone from a rather nice soundtrack by Orbital, but ultimately runs into the age old problem of remakes: "Why does this exist?" It often manages to be entertaining and downright compelling when the film settles and rests on Coyle's performance, but in a world where Refn's original PUSHER trilogy still attracts new viewers as a result of his growing popularity, one simply has to question why a beat for beat remake is even necessary. In the end we're left with something less fulfilling, like the drug trade itself, a hollow rat race of more lows than highs.

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