Nicolas Winding Refn gives his blessing to this remake of his 1996 Danish thriller, taking a producer credit and inviting Luis Prieto to try and outdo him for stylish nihilism. The Spanish filmmaker does a fair job of it, but even if you haven't seen the original, you'll feel like you've seen it all before.
Richard Coyle plays Frank (because tough guys are always called Frank), a sullen bloke who traverses London dealing drugs and who, for inexplicable reasons, allows pip-squeaky geezer type Tony (Bronson Webb) to tag along. Perhaps he finds humour in Tony's mindless rambling (initially about how much coke a woman could secrete in her vagina), but you wouldn't know it from his face.
The most telling moment in this day-in-the-life portrait happens early on, when one of Frank's douche-bag clients Fitz (Paul Kaye channelling Dennis Pennis) angles for a discount. It looks like Fitz will spend the rest of the day trying to get blood stains out of his silk gown (the preferred garb of all douche-bags), but Frank thinks better of it - taking back a few grams to make it even.
So, violence isn't the first recourse for Frank, but over 24 hours he's given less time to think and promptly thrashes Tony after being collared in a sting operation. Back on the street he's frustrated by a predictable problem: how to pay back local kingpin Milo for the stash he lost. Zlatko Buric reprises that role from Refn's film, this time trying to pass off a Serbian accent as a Turkish one.
On the upside Buric does a highly entertaining job of being all at once goofy and terrifying, and Prieto ventures into a more ethnically diverse corner of the London underworld, which is rarely explored on film. This is just set dressing, though. The camera sticks tightly to Frank going round the houses, sweating, fretting, strutting, but rarely running for his life.
Frank merely stands by, trying not to react, as Milo's henchman Hakan (Me Ferda) shows him how to squeeze a client for cash - an old man - in one of the more shocking scenes. The violence isn't graphic, but it is challenging because it's the weak and vulnerable who suffer. Coyle's discomfort is palpable; still, he seems a little too enigmatic in a situation that is supposed to test his mettle.
A melancholy romance with a stripper doesn't shed too much light on Frank's capacity for self-sacrifice either, instead ticking another box on a long list of clichés. It-girl model Agyness Deyn plays Flo with the kind of whimsical resignation usually seen on the catwalk and a clean, cool look that doesn't seem entirely fitting for a graduate of the school of hard-knocks.
The film is designed to hit hard on a gut level, yet it never takes your breath away. Prieto is inventive behind the camera and Coyle is an interesting new face, but the material is distinctly second-hand - just as it was in 1996 - and however tricksy the approach, you can always see what's coming.