Movies You May Have Missed: PUSH

A lot of movies get released every year.  Like a lot.  Like 600 in North America alone.  So its no surprise that a few gems fall through the cracks and get skipped over by the general public.  Some of them, like Office Space, find a home on DVD.  Others, like The Evil Dead, become cult hits with a small and dedicated fanbase.  But most of these movies disappear forever without ever really finding any love from anyone.  That, my dear readers, is what we are here for.  Welcome to a new segment we like to call “Movies You May Have Missed.”  Brunden was going to kick off this new segment with a movie I absolutely adore (which I won’t spoil as his segment is going to really kick some ass), but his hate for Transformers: Dark of the Moon took over to such a degree that I decided to jump in and hit you with one of my favorite movies that nobody saw but everyone should have, PUSH.

PUSH is easily one of my favorite little secrets of the past decade.  Inventive, creative and stylish with good performances, a rich mythology (you all know how I love my mythology) and plot twists that actually catch you off guard, PUSH brought us a unique look at the “superhero” genre. The film is more or less an indie film with a studio budget, focusing more on characters and plot then the action set pieces that are peppered throughout the film.  I think most people skipped out on this film because of a truly awful film called Jumper which soured people on the idea of a superhero film that wasn’t based on established characters.  It didn’t help that it was critically panned either.  Roger Ebert said “Push has vibrant cinematography and decent acting, but I’m blasted if I know what it’s about.”  Jeffrey Bloomer from Paste Magazine said “Push dashes from genre to genre in search of a reason to exist.”  Even reviewers who enjoyed the movie acknowledged that they would surely endure scorn for enjoying it.

So how can I love this movie so much?  Before we get into that, we must first understand the mythology of the world in which PUSH takes place.  As Cassie (Dakota Fanning) says over the opening titles, “There are special people in this world.  We don’t ask to be special.  We’re just born this way.  We pass you on the streets every day, unnoticed by most.  It started in 1945.  The Nazis were conducting experiments in psychic warfare, trying to turn those with psychic abilities into soldiers.  Lots of us died.  The war ended, but the experiments never stopped.  Other governments around the world set up what they called ‘Divisions’ try to do what the Nazis couldn’t, to turn us into weapons.  Division’s agents are trained to track and hunt us down like animals, take us away from our families and friends.  They test us and categorize us.  In Division’s eyes, we’re all just lab rats.”

What are these powers?  Well, to make explaining the plot a little easier, let me give you a description of each “type” we see in the movie:


Watchers see the future in any given moment which isn’t as easy as it sounds.  Simple knowledge of the future can completely change the outcome of situations.  Most Watchers tend to see flashes and sketch what they see in order to help convey the visions who’s meaning or repercussions they may not fully understand.


Movers are telekinetic who can identify the atomic frequency of things and alter the gravity around it, allowing them to move objects and people.  More practiced Movers can move air molecules around them, allowing them to create force fields that protect them from outside forces such as bullets and add extra power to their punches.


Pushers have the ability to implant thoughts, emotions or memories into the minds of other people in order to manipulate them.  Most Pushers use eye contact to trigger their influence in others and powerful Pushers can control multiple people at once.


Bleeders emit a high pitched sonic wave that cause a target’s blood vessels to rupture.  Generally, while using their powers, a Bleeders eyes will turn into vertical slits.  The sonic wave emitted by Bleeders can often shatter solid objects.


Sniffs can track the location of people or objects over long distance by making a tactile connection to something that had a relationship with the subject they are tracking.  By touching or smelling an object, Sniffs can see the history of that object and trace its history to help them find whatever or whoever they are looking for.


Shifters can alter the appearance of an object.  Once the illusion is established, the object retains the alteration for a period based on the Shifter’s ability. They can, for example, take a piece of paper and make it appear to be money.


Wipers have the ability to temporarily or permanently erase a subjects memory.  This can be used to better hide from Watchers and Sniffs.


Shadows can block the abilities of Sniffs by masking the “scent” of anyone within a radius dictated by their own personal skill level.


Stitches have the ability to alter individual cells.  This allows them to act as psychic surgeons, either healing or unhealing anyone they make physical contact with.

As a child, Nick and his father, one of the worlds most powerful Movers, were on the run from Division.  When his father realized escape was impossible, he explains to Nick that a powerful Watcher had told him that one day a girl would give Nick a flower and that by helping her, Nick can aid in taking down Division.  Now, ten years later, Nick (Chris Evans) is hiding from Division in Hong Kong.  Although he tries to make a living by using his gift to cheat local gamblers, his lack of practice and skill has left him in trouble with many local gangs.

After two Division Sniffs pay him an unwelcome visit, a young girl named Cassie shows up at Nicks apartment armed with a flower and a request for Nick’s help.  Joined by Hook (Cliff Curtis), a powerful Shifter, a skilled Sniff named Emily Hu (Ming-Na) and a Shadow Named Pinky (Nate Mooney), Nick and Cassie set off on a journey to find a powerful Pusher named Kira (Camilla Belle) and a case that holds the secret to taking down Division forever.  The obstacle standing in their way is Agent Henry Carver (Djimon Hounsou), an extremely skilled Pusher.  Carver, armed with the considerable resources of Division, will stop at nothing to get the case back.  Also after the case is one of the gangs Nick owes money to, a family of Bleeders who are aided by a Watcher like Cassie.

As Nick, Chris Evans perfectly embodies the reluctant hero, motivated by survival and armed with a cynical detachment.  Much like his cinematic predecessor Harrison Ford, he knows what must be done but absolutely hates that he has to do it.  Evans irresistible onscreen charm makes it evident why he has quickly become one of the most loved heroic actors of his generation.  As Cassie, Fanning brings a surprising amount of depth to the film by being both tough and vulnerable.  When Cassie first meets her, the rival Watcher says “Stupid child.  I’ve already seen how you die,” to which Cassie cooly replies “Then you know it’s not here and it’s not today.”  In stark contrast, when Cassie meets Djimon Hounsou’s chilling Carver, she tears up and quietly begs “Please, don’t make me do anything to myself.”

The ability of the Watchers to see the future, the Sniffs to track anybody or anything and the Pushers to make anybody believe whatever truth they can imagine makes this much more then your average powers on powers fight.  What begins as a straightforward movie about man vs. the establishment quickly becomes a labyrinth of plot twists and turns as the reality we think we know is flipped upside down and replaced with a new one.  In a strange way, PUSH is more a con movie then a superhero movie as layer upon layer is peeled away and we learn more about the characters and the truth behind what is really going on.  Cassie’s visions, for instance, are often oddly specific and very vague.  As a young Watcher who hasn’t yet gained a real mastery of her skills, her visions are often limited to a few details that not even Cassie fully understands.  This allows Nick, Cassie and the audience to stay in the dark about their meaning until the film is ready to reveal their purpose.

The confusion of never completely understanding what’s happening is part of the fun though.  As someone who can often see the twists coming way ahead of time, a movie that can catch me off guard is really refreshing.  With characters who can enforce their own reality on others, it is fairly easy to lose sense of what is true and what is deception.  For instance, when Nick finds Kira it becomes apparent that not only do the pair know each other, but are lovers who were separated when Kira was captured by Division.  But were they really lovers or did Kira just Push that belief into Nick’s mind?  The movie plays it smart by never taking a narrative side and letting us find out the truth as the story unwinds.  By allowing us to simply follow the action, the story keeps you guessing and wondering what will happen next.  By the time Nick comes up with a plan that involves writing himself notes, having his mind Wiped and following his own instructions to the conclusion,  you are having so much fun with the dizzying confusion that it becomes hard not to enjoy.  Let me say that again.  He writes various notes instructing himself on the various stages of the plan.  He has his mind Wiped so he no longer knows the plan and thus can’t be tracked by Watchers.  He reads the notes he wrote himself in order to follow through with a plan he came up with but no longer knows.  Although many reviewers criticized the movie for its confusing and often perplexing plot, I absolutely eat it up.

With its clever plot twists, interesting mythos and beautiful Hong Kong backdrop, PUSH is a movie for the superhero geek looking for something different.  The Hong Kong setting gives the film a distopian futuristic feel while still feeling contemporary.  With his rich visual style, director Paul McGuigan manages to push the boundaries of the genre, taking what could have easily been a failed attempt at making a superhero con film and turning it into a multi-layered chess game filled with McGuffins and misleads.  Although many viewers will get lost in the films many bluffs and deceptions, those who survive the journey will be rewarded with a cinematic treat that makes them wish they had seen it when it first came out so we could all be rewarded with the sequel this movie so richly deserves.

~ by Andrew Craig on July 22, 2011.

2 Responses to “Movies You May Have Missed: PUSH”

  1. I agree. Push was very underrated. I think “Movies you may have missed” is an excellent idea for a series. Can’t wait for the next one

    • Keep your eyes peeled. I’m working on the next one right now and if you didnt see Brunden’s “Movies You May Have Missed” post about Primer, go check it out!

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