Push Blu-ray Review

About midway through Push (2009), I lost interest in trying to figure out exactly what was going on with the ever growing roster of psychic characters and multiplying plot threads and turned my mental faculties off to wallow in the vibrant visuals and well executed action sequences. Director Paul McGuigan (Wicker Park, Lucky # Slevin) has attempted to capitalize on the comic book/super hero craze that has gained hold of Hollywood as of late seemingly taking inspiration from NBC’s Heroes (the X-Men movies are another obvious influence). Unfortunately he also appears to have inherited some of the show’s impenetrable plot and the notion that if a few participants are good, more must be better.

The following is a high level recap though considering the amount of convolution, I very well may have gotten something wrong: Kira (Camilla Belle) is a “pusher” (able to implant memories in other’s minds) and the only paranormal to survive being injected by a serum (ostensibly that enhances powers but not sure why so many had to die before finding her?) during experiments conducted by the Division; a generic shadowy, conspiratorial government related agency. After escaping with a sample of the drug to Hong Kong (I assume recovering the drug matters to cover evidence of its existence and her being able to survive it when all before died, points to her being really powerful — sequel anyone?) she is being sought by super powerful Division agents, Carver (Djimon Hounsou), another pusher, and Victor (Neil Jackson), a “mover” (telekinetic) in parallel with the Pop family (Asian paranormal gangsters?) consisting of a “watcher” (clairvoyant) and “bleeders” (able to scream damaging high pitched frequencies). Comprising two of the main characters mixed up in this mess (and running from or battling both sets of antagonists) are Nick (Chris Evans), who is a mover and previously was involved with Kira (or so we think), and Cassie (Dakota Fanning) another watcher whose mom (the best watcher ever?) helped Kira escape from Division.

I do not know if the preceding description sounds interesting or even exactly makes sense, but it barely captures the overbearing complexity of the story that is much more nuanced and headache inducing that I can impart in a few paragraphs (the director jokingly states in the commentary that the film is hard to explain (duh) and he is not bothered if the audience is often confused as long as the basic premise is understood – this only vaguely consoles me). While there may exist the seed of a good movie here, the execution, in its lack of subtlety or coherence, kills it. I do not ask that a film necessarily make sense. However, if it is going to be on the incomprehensible side, a movie needs to convey a palatable sense of mystery and be emotionally provocative (neither of which require hard core logic to be effective…ala David Lynch). Sadly Push fails at this with two dimensional portrayals you do not care about (the villains are more interesting for my tastes) and rapid fire changing plot threads that make the narrative all the more ineffectual the further you try to unravel the exact details.

What really damns Push is that it is overly caught up in its own cleverness (no time travel like Heroes but an equally infuriating layered storyline about memories being distorted by pushers) without remaining objective enough to be coherent. There is a central plot point where Nick gives his co-conspirators envelopes, to be opened at a later time, enclosing hints or instructions about what will happen to each as he is soon to have his memory erased to avoid compromising their objective by an adversarial watcher. If this scenario were taken as the starting point for the movie, it could have been a golden opportunity to create a mind bending yet still subtle and elusively comprehensible story that could tie all the disparate threads together with a decent sense of mystery. Unfortunately this turns out to be just one among many twists that adds up to little that matters. Since it appears this cinematic entry is meant to be the start of a franchise, we may be seeing the surviving characters again though I do not know if I really care.

Summing the film up in a potentially more succinct manner: There are people with psychic powers all competing for something (still not 100% why) resulting in many awesome fight sequences. Taken from this super high level of abstraction, Push is a fun movie that you will quickly forget as not taking the details too seriously only gives random impressions of character interaction separating the engrossing violence (especially awesome is the action packed final confrontation between “everyone” that fires on all cylinders). And you do avoid a headache when you do not think too much about the convoluted plot.

Prior to viewing Push, I had never knowingly heard of Summit Entertainment who produces this Blu-ray release. As it turns out, this is the studio behind the very successful Twilight and also Knowing, which was recently released on BD. While I have qualms with the story (that’s probably an understatement) the visual/audio presentation is seriously top-notch. Additionally the extras are lacking as you think with a film this technically competent there would be features on the production background, but the mixed bag of a commentary is the best we get on that subject.

I am highly impressed with Push’s mesmerizing visuals that are so affectingly stylistic I cannot discern if there is much of anything wrong with this high-def transfer. All the normal facets are in place: 1080p resolution, AVC encode and 2.40:1 framing slightly tightening the 2.35:1 theatrical ratio. Cinematographer Peter Sova (a long time collaborator with the director) imbues shots with hypnotic color that almost dances off the screen, whether through over accentuating inherent hues or using filters to shade the environment (and skin tones) to the point of over saturation. This often makes plain ole’ white a commodity in the film’s palette and attempting to find a naturalistic shot futile. Taking in all the myriad facets of the transfer is as exhausting as the effort to make sense of the narrative.

Following Lucky # Slevin that exhibited a similar visual texture, this is only the second film I have seen by McGuigan, though Push easily trumps that film’s competent HD transfer. Astonishing depth of field is paired with abundant detail (both close and far) though some shots were done on 16mm to purposely have a grittier look with excessive grain (the majority of the film has a modest level) and less focus. Contrast is purposely manipulated, rarely at the detriment of blacks and shadow delineation that are excellently rendered though whites can become vaguely overblown, which is obviously an artistic choice. This Blu-ray’s image is fairly close to reference quality (if any digital post processing was done, it is not obvious) and will succeed or fail based on how you take to the overwhelming style presented.

Just as the video kicks butt on this release, the 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio surround track (48 kHz) is near perfect. The soundtrack for Wanted is still my personal choice for showing off my system and irritating the neighbors, but Push’s lossless audio is a close contender. From the driving, ambient score by Neil Davidge (of Massive Attack) through over the top action (the villains that can scream almost make you want to cover your ears) your system will be put through a workout with an enveloping soundstage that fills the room to overflowing. Everything that makes for a top-notch action soundtrack is here including impressive dynamic range (there is some serious floor and wall rumbling bass), excellent panning, precise separation of sound elements and clarity that never allows the dialog (however lame it may be at times) to get lost in the mix.

The lone dubbed track is in Spanish Dolby 5.1 surround and optional subtitles are available in English (SDH) and Spanish.

Feature commentary – Director Paul McGuigan, Dakota Fanning (both in the right channel) and Chris Evans (coming from the left) turn in a feature length commentary with minimal dropout. This track works on three distinct points though sadly there is no way to easily get one without enduring the others.

1) Production background. This is where this track shines, as there are many interesting behind the scenes details recounted. Included are talk about adapting the script, the explicit use of color in the visuals, set construction, shooting on the streets of Hong Kong only using hand held cameras (either right out in public or hidden in cars or other locations) while the crowd acted obliviously as extras and how little CGI is used (the car driving scenes are the only use of green screen).

2) Explaining the obvious story happening onscreen. While this form of padding a commentary is weak on most accounts, considering how befuddling the plot is, it is actually beneficial to have the director blatantly account the context of what is going on in many moments. It still does not go deep enough to make the full presentation totally comprehensible but does help.

3) Anecdotes about filming. Far often too light and giddy, the three laugh and reminisce about experiences while filming. This is my least favorite form of supplemental track and is no more endearing to me in this instance.

Deleted Scenes (3:19, HD) – Four scenes (with play all option) are offered in high-def framed at 1.78:1. These are very short with the first three being fairly boring and the fourth comprised of Pop girl “dealing” with another main character having some vague interest. You definitely want to watch these with the optional director commentary that at least gives context.

The Science Behind The Fiction (9:17, HD) – A featurette that borders on fluff with some intriguing ideas about the “reality” of psychic powers that are not nearly delved into deep enough. The director and Dr John Alexander (formerly of the military and Los Alamos Lab) give input on real life inspiration for the movie. This could easily have been expanded into a full feature that would have been well worth watching as opposed to this fairly forgettable piece we get.

Push is a movie you keep hoping is better than it appears to be and finally have to give up searching for a deeper coherency within. I do not regret watching it and really enjoyed the visceral action sequences, but the confused plot never comes to fruition and will only leave you frustrated if you spend too much time trying to reconcile all the loose ends. If this spawns a sequel, I hope whoever helms it learns from the mistakes of this parent film.

Summit delivers a Blu-ray that while lacking in extras is a visual and audio juggernaut. I am not sure how many fans of the movie will really care about the supplements anyway, but they will not be disappointed by the striking A/V presentation. I doubt I will ever watch the movie from beginning to end again, but I can easily see myself pulling it out to demo many action scenes as, purely on technical merits, this is one of the best Blu-ray Discs I have experienced recently.

– Robert Searle

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