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Push – film review

July 10, 2014

PUSH

Psychic rumble in Hong Kong.

push - dakota fanning 2009

Directed by Paul McGuigan. Written by David Bourla. Starring Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, Cliff Curtis and Djimon Hounsou. Year of release: 2009. Running time: 111 minutes.

In a secret world of laboratory-created psychics, a teenaged girl who can see the future enlists the help of a young man who can move objects with his mind, in a desperate bid to recover a briefcase which may hold the key to increasing their abilities, while facing off against a US government agency who created them.

The film’s title is a word used to describe the moment when these psychics use their powers – as in ‘to push’. And in this particular universe psychics are endowed with different abilities from one another and can be categorized variously as: Watchers, Pushers, Movers and Bleeders (among a few others).

The psychics’ drug-spawned abilities do recall earlier works – most notably the drug-induced freaks found in the1980 sci-fi movie Scanners (although the psychics here are the result of ongoing Nazi research – as opposed to a morning sickness drug gone awry). And the government-sanctioned experiments of ‘The Shop’ in the novel Firestarter by Stephen King could also be seen as a potential source of inspiration. As far as the various superpowers are concerned, writer David Bourla has clearly put in the hours to figure out a water-tight internal logic here and director McGuigan presents inventive ways of showing how superpowers might actually work – giving them a certain gritty real-world credibility. Cassie is a Watcher who draws pictures of future events in a sketch book she carries around with her; knowing full well the future is not set. Camilla Belle plays Nick’s love interest, Kira, a Pusher who has the ability to implant thoughts and false memories into other people’s minds. She uses this power to great effect when manipulating one of her Division captors to kill his off-sider by implanting a false memory – which then facilitates her escape.

There is a nice rapport and amusing banter between Dakota Fanning’s street-smart urchin Cassie and Chris Evans’ Nick (a Mover) – which essentially carries the film. And Bourla’s script is peppered with amusing little asides between the two: Nick ribs Cassie over the punkish color in her hair – “Lose a bet with your hairdresser?” Of the rest of the refreshingly eclectic cast; Djimon Hounsou (the striking African actor who first came to prominence in Steven Spielberg’s Amistad) stands out as an imposing antagonist; a ruthless Division agent (also endowed with psychic powers) – hot on     the trail of Cassie and Nick. Also thrown into the mix are a gang of Chinese Triad ‘Bleeders’ – psychics with the ability to emit high-pitched screams which can burst organs and blood vessels – somewhat terrifying in their own right.

Scottish helmer Paul McGuigan brings a low-key, non-showy approach to the     material – taking full advantage of the down-and-dirty Hong Kong settings; while Neil Davidge’s energetc score keeps the action moving along at a driving pace. And using Hong Kong as a backdrop creates many opportunities to explore exotic environs rarely seen in Western movies – the color-saturated cinematography by Peter Sova (Diner, The Proposition) capturing beautifully these neon-lit locales. Much like Christopher Nolan’s better-known InceptionPush very much segues into a full-blown caper film in the second half, as Cassie and Nick carry out their plan to recover the briefcase – and the plot tends towards becoming more complex and borderline convoluted as a result.

Despite the complicated convolutions of the second half, Push is a clever and inventive sci-fi caper movie, with likeable characters in fascinating locales – which doesn’t rely on flashy visuals and overblown set-pieces to make an impact. And although it has an ending which invites further exploration of the universe it has created, it seems unlikely we will return to this world – as Chris Evans is now firmly ensconsed in his role as Captain America in the Marvelverse – which is a shame.

Viewed on Blu-ray.

3.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

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