The British remake of Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn's Pusher, receiving its world premiere in Edinburgh this week, shares the same relentless narrative tempo that made the 1996 original so distinctive.
The characters and milieu are familiar from dozens of other seedy, low budget British gangster films but we very quickly begin to identify with small-time drug dealer Frank (Richard Coyle) as he blunders round London, desperately trying to pay off a £55,000 debt.
Spanish-born director Luis Prieto isn’t embarrassed at all about using all the genre clichés: pounding music, sweaty close-ups, fights in strobe-lit nightclubs, chases, shots of rubbish-strewn London streets. The screenplay doesn’t entirely hang together. The machismo and posturing dialogue sometimes grate. However, what the film does have is ferocious drive and some very vividly drawn characters.
In a slightly ambiguous, strangely written role as Flo, an erotic dancer, drug dealer and all round siren, fashion model Agyness Deyn brings an unlikely glamour to proceedings. The producers are reportedly contemplating a spin-off film in which she would be the main protagonist. Here, Deyn (also shortly to be seen in Terence Davies’s Sunset Song) isn’t on screen much and her character’s motivation is hard to surmise but she has real presence.
The producers (who include Refn) were also sensible to cast the wonderful Zlatko Buric (who appeared in the original as well as in Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things) as the tall, genial Milo, the man to whom Frank owes the money. Milo isn’t the typical heavy. He has a sweet tooth and is constantly trying to feed Frank pastry. He likes Frank but (as is the immutable law in gangster films like this), he puts money before friendship and is quite prepared to break his friend’s kneecaps if he’s not repaid in full.
The Pusher premise is similar to that of Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. The difference here is that there’s no Clarence the angel to help out Frank. He’s sleazy and violent. We see him brutally beat up his “gobby” friend Tony (Bronson Webb.) When he needs money, he’ll beg from his mother or extort it. Nonetheless, you can’t help but root for him as he tries desperately to clamber out of a very big hole. ”I didn’t do anything wrong,” he laments at one stage as his life falls apart. Just as in the original film, the fates are against him and there is little he can do to avoid his own damnation.