It’s a reference to the original film, but it just doesn’t work. It’s too TV, it seems wrong for a feature film, giving the audience the impression that the creative team either don’t trust the audience to figure these things out on their own, or were too lazy to work these minor details in naturally. Fortunately, after that minor niggle, the film gets a lot better fast.
Richard Coyle’s Frank is engaging from the moment we meet him. Cheeky and charming, but with a very real menace. What’s particularly interesting is that he seems like a very different beast to the usual protagonist in a Brit-crime thriller. He has a slightly odd accent throughout, which isn’t really in keeping with what is later to be revealed to be the character’s history, and seems more a function of Coyle’s heritage, but it isn’t much of an issue.
The rest of the cast are also pretty top notch, although Bronson Webb, good as he is, looks distractingly like James Buckley. The stand out amongst the supporting cast is Agnes Deyn. She’s fantastic. There’s a stillness to the performance, reminiscent of Carey Mulligan in Drive, although it feels completely natural to Deyn’s character.
That’s only one of the many overtones of Drive throughout the film. Whether it’s because of the involvement of Nicholas Winding Refn, or a more cynical decision to actively ape Drive’s success, the references are threaded throughout – not just in the electro soundtrack or the use of neon, but even some of the shot choices. Arguably the movie has been in production since long before Drive was released, but if nothing else, it’s obvious that Refn had a reasonable involvement with the project; it certainly has the expected level of spontaneous ultra-violence, and Preito even manages to squeeze in a Refn trademark fist clench.
Ultimately, Pusher is an exciting, visceral and utterly compelling film, populated by characters who feel so real that after spending an hour and a half in their grimy world, you’ll feel very much in need of a shower. It expertly avoids the genre clichés, and sits well above most of its competition because of that. It does have moments where it feels like Refn-lite, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s certainly better than Refn-free. See it.