Pushing Tin
Rating -

Comedy (US); 1999; Rated R; 124 Minutes

John Cusack:
Nick Falzone
Billy Bob Thornton: Russell Bell
Cate Blanchett: Connie Falzone
Angelina Jolie: Mary Bell
Jake Weber: Barry Plotkin

Produced by Michael Flynn, Alan Greenspan and Art Linson; Directed by Mike Newell; Screenwritten by Glen and Les Charles

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Written by DAVID KEYES

When TV campaigns announced "Pushing Tin" as a comedy about the lives of air traffic controllers, its future became uncertain. The distinct indicator was the premise: a story about two air traffic controllers. After all, this is something that moviegoers have probably never seen before. And no wonder; the subject is complex and odd, one that would be difficult to tackle successfully. When people finally saw the previews, only one question remained: If no one has seen air traffic control in the movies so far, was it worth seeing now?

The answer? Yes and no. "Pushing Tin" receives a 'yes' for the fascinating plot and characters, and a 'no' for a pathetic wrap-up. Director Mike Newell, whose past credits include the outrageous "Four Weddings And A Funeral," and writers Glen and Les Charles, treat the subject with charismatic wit. The movie plays well in the first half, because it introduces four characters that are both charming and observant, and the plot builds up an amusing tension between two hotshot air-traffic controllers. But then, just when the film begins picking up momentum, it loses fuel and slows down with contrived climaxes, all of which lead up to a typical feel-good studio ending that crashes nose-first on impact. The early half of the picture is a pacesetter, and the second is a devised series of sentimental situations. Add these two factors together, and you get "Pushing Tin," a film that is, specifically, just okay.

For what it's worth, though, it has a lot of merit. The film stars John Cusack as a hotshot air traffic controller named Nick Falzone, whose job involves sitting in an office, staring at an observation screen and shouting landing instructions to the planes overhead. His instructions are given swiftly and precisely, until, hopefully, the entire set of airplanes have been landed safely and all lined up nicely. The way the movie embarks on these events, it wants to make the air-traffic controllers celebrities. At least, that's the way the office treats them.

But it doesn't last long for Falzone. Soon he's got competition, when Russell Bell (Billy Bob Thornton), a man of few words but many expressions, enters town and quickly finds his way to the top of the air traffic controlling ladder. He is low-profile, awkward man from the south, who once stood on a runway during the landing of a 747, just to feel the effects of 'backwash.' Early on, there is a scene in a bar where one of the controllers questions Bell about one of the stunts he pulled at an airport in New Mexico. Bell denies the hearsay, at first, but while the crew is laughing and feeling relieved, he merely corrects them, stating that the event actually happened in Arizona rather than New Mexico. Then, apparently, the crew feels astonished.

Much of the plot is a macho competition, where both Falzone and Bell contend for the top honors at their air traffic office, all while getting into sticky situations with each others wives. Cate Blanchett, the brilliant actress who shone in "Elizabeth," is Falzone's wife, and does a good job with the character that has been written for her, even though it is underdeveloped. On the other hand, Angelina Jolie as Bell's wife, Mary, is suave and interesting, not just as a wife but as an acquaintance to her husband's rival. Falzone, not surprisingly, enjoys her company, and that is visible in the scenes they have together: at first in a grocery store, then in a restaurant, and lastly, in Mary's bedroom. Movies like this love to squander the characters in endless adultery, but thankfully, "Pushing Tin" doesn't go farther than needed.

Now, if only the ending had not been so nauseating. Every once in awhile, with a movie like this, the studio finds it necessary to end the film with some sort of touchy-feely conclusion, as part of their longtime belief that, if a movie doesn't end happily, it's not always good. Here, the conclusion is filmed by fishing streams in the mountains, where Thornton's character opens up for the first time, and Cusack's becomes sidetracked from his tremendous ego trip and just sits there, listening to what the other has to say. The dialogue is all feel-good, sentimental garbage, matched with equally shameless climaxes.

But the movie is not that concerned about pesky conclusions. It is more concerned about investigating these rivals and their wives down to the core, not just so we get to know them, but also for giving them the chance to get to know each other. The bottom line here is that "Pushing Tin" works overall, even though it might have been much better if the last half didn't get all sappy.

1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org. Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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