Ottawa Citizen

Push­ing the bound­aries of loser­dom

Pusher opts for ev­ery­day re­al­ity over grand cin­ema in this cau­tion­ary tale of drugs


Just be­cause most of the peo­ple in this movie are en­tirely loath­some doesn’t mean you have to hate Luis Pri­eto’s Pusher.

But it will elicit a deep sense of re­vul­sion all the same — whether you choose to love this movie, or re­ject it on prin­ci­ple.

A vi­o­lent, sex-laden and fre­quently com­edy-prone trip down the toi­let of a failed life, the movie begs you to judge early, and judge of­ten.

When your cen­tral char­ac­ter is a worka­day drug dealer with a weedy lit­tle side­kick, it’s hard not to feel the steel of a loom­ing mo­ral blade be­cause once we spend enough time with Frank (Richard Coyle), we be­gin to see he’s prob­a­bly be­yond re­demp­tion.

He doesn’t seem that bad at the be­gin­ning, but that’s the warped up­side of this up­side-down cau­tion­ary tale: It un­der­stands the most dan­ger­ous mem­bers of so­ci­ety are of­ten the ones who look com­pletely be­nign.

Ev­ery­thing about Frank screams reg­u­lar fella, and maybe that’s one of the un­der­ly­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal fac­tors at play: He dreams of be­ing more than the av­er­age Joe he really is, so he turns to the over-ro­man­ti­cized world of drugs and thugs look­ing for a new iden­tity that over­comes his beige soul.

It’s here, in the grotty crevices of Lon­don’s un­der­world, that we first meet Frank and his rat-like friend Tony (Bron­son Webb) as they plan a deal that could set them up for life. We never get the par­tic­u­lars. The whole scheme comes to us through per­sonal en­coun­ters with the dirty rain­bow of soiled souls, from the sleazy mule who takes Frank’s cash to the avun­cu­lar Balkan who will break his legs.

Be­cause movie for­mula in­forms most of th­ese se­quences, we not only ar­rive at the un­der­ly­ing scheme rel­a­tively early, we’re also un­der the im­pres­sion Frank will emerge as some kind of hero by the fi­nal frame.

Af­ter all, he seems like a nice guy. Even if his friend Tony uses the most de­mean­ing, sexist and vul­gar lan­guage, Frank seems good to women. He’s al­most the guy next door — un­til his planned de­par­ture for Easy Street is de­layed at the ter­mi­nal.

When his mule goes miss­ing with the money and a new ac­quain­tance meets with a bad end, Frank soon re­al­izes he has no real friends. None. And the one pal who prob­a­bly would have stood by him, he beats with a base­ball bat.

The worse things get for Frank, the bet­ter things get for the movie.

In fact, the more Frank emerges as a pa­thetic creep, the more fun it is to watch him squirm. Not only is it en­ter­tain­ing from a pure per­for­mance point of view — thanks in large part to the dev­as­tat­ingly dead­pan Slavs who plays the heav­ies, it’s soul-cleans­ing from a mo­ral point of view.

All that time we were forced to watch Frank ex­ploit ev­ery­one around him took its toll on our em­pa­thy as well as pa­tience for the movie it­self. No one wants to watch a flaky creep get rich with­out con­se­quence: It’s too much like re­al­ity.

Yet, when Frank’s ar­ro­gance be­gins to catch up with him, the karmic pay­off re­sults in a slow-mo­tion fall de­serv­ing of a Peck­in­pah mon­tage — that never comes.

Di­rec­tor Pri­eto wasn’t go­ing for the grand cin­e­matic moment. In­stead, he’s look­ing for the kitchensin­k re­al­ity of be­ing a cocky per­son of medi­ocre in­tel­li­gence who be­lieves he’s a step ahead of the game.

Watch­ing weak losers fail of­fers its own re­wards, but where this movie raises it­self above the generic com­pe­ti­tion is its clever — but un­spo­ken — con­ceit that Frank could be a hero if he plays his cards right.

Let’s face it: He has nice clothes and a de­cent look. Why couldn’t he be just like Ge­orge or Brad in Ocean’s Eleven? Ev­ery dime store crook looks in the mir­ror and sees a lit­tle Clooney gaz­ing back and Frank is no dif­fer­ent.

Pri­eto lulls us into lik­ing him, then slowly but surely turns the screws un­til we can see Frank for what he truly is: a user who would say any­thing to any­one to help him­self, in­clud­ing the ones he pro­fesses to love.

By the time the movie is over, we may feel a lit­tle dirty for the ex­pe­ri­ence, but any sense of mo­ral doubt has been an­swered by the di­rec­tor’s un­flinch­ing hand of judg­ment and Frank’s com­plete fail­ure as a de­cent hu­man be­ing.

 ?? EONE FILMS ?? Ag­y­ness Deyn and Richard Coyle star in Pusher, which probes the crevices of drug-filled Lon­don.
EONE FILMS Ag­y­ness Deyn and Richard Coyle star in Pusher, which probes the crevices of drug-filled Lon­don.

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