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Review: Prieto Remakes Refn's 'Pusher'

Thompson on Hollywood By Todd Gilchrist | Thompson on Hollywood October 20, 2012 at 3:24PM

Luis Prieto’s remake of "Pusher" is of interest because Nicolas Winding Refn's original offers such promising source material. But even with Refn's blessing, Prieto makes plenty of his own mistakes, delivering a stylish but perfunctory copy of his predecessor.
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"Pusher"
"Pusher"

Luis Prieto’s remake of 'Pusher' is of interest because Nicolas Winding Refn's original offers such promising source material. But even with Refn's blessing, Prieto makes plenty of his own mistakes, delivering a stylish but perfunctory copy of his predecessor.

Richard Coyle ("Prince of Persia") plays Frank, a working-class drug dealer with a predictably unpredictable sidekick named Tony (Bronson Webb) and a sometime girlfriend named Flo (Agyness Deyn). When Tony reintroduces him to an old prison buddy who offers to pay handsomely for a kilo of cocaine if he can deliver it quickly, Frank is distracted by the promise of a payday. But after the cops interrupt their transaction, leaving him with neither the drugs nor the money, Frank finds himself in hot water with his supplier Milo (Zlatko Buric), who demands that he repay a $50k debt within the next two days.

The biggest problem with Prieto’s interpretation (not reinterpretation) of Refn’s story is not that it’s almost identical. It’s that Prieto ladles on visual flourishes that are meant to suggest character details, while ignoring the stylistic hallmarks of Refn’s film that actually did. In the original, Frank returns from police custody to exact revenge on the guy who gave him up to the cops; where Refn used one continuous take to demonstrate the character’s hidden rage, Prieto shoots the same sequence in a flashy strip club, overshadowing Frank’s betrayal and outrage with a montage of canted angles and bright colors.

As the main character, Cole is too collected and sedate to communicate Frank’s increasing desperation, much less draw the audience’s sympathy with his pathetic delusional pride. In Refn’s film, Frank was a piece of shit from the opening scene, but there was something vaguely compelling about how he was smart enough to know the right move, but would make the wrong one anyway. Here, Frank seems propelled by the forces of the screenplay rather than the design of his twisted sense of self-worth, and as a result his spiral into self-destruction seems more predictable than inevitable.

Prieto’s camera lingers on and returns to montages of Frank’s inner indecision – how he feels about what he’s doing at a given moment – but the filmmaker mistakes these interstitial sequences for depth or emotional substance. A second-act robbery is interrupted by a quickly-cut sequence of Frank’s reactions – laughter, terror, paranoia – but by this time in the story, those feelings should have been established purely by what he’s being dealt.

This article is related to: Reviews, Reviews, Festivals, Fantastic Fest, Festivals


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.