Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Mike Newell
Stars: John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett, Angelina Jolie,
Jake Weber, Vicki Lewis, Kurt Fuller, Matt Ross
Pushing Tin takes us inside the rarely seen, high pressure world of air traffic controllers. These are the men who are responsible for the safe landing of thousands of planes at New York’s three busiest air ports daily. It’s a stressful job, with a high rate of suicide, severe depression, alcoholism and marriage breakups. Like MASH, this comedy/drama explores the sense of camaraderie that binds over-stressed workers together, both at work and at play.
Pushing Tin is based on a magazine article written by a tower insider and, frighteningly enough, reeks of authenticity. While the film often presents the human face of this intense but little known environment, it doesn’t exactly instil those who may be flying somewhere in the near future with a sense of confidence.
Nick “the zone” Falzone (John Cusack) is New York’s cocky young hot shot controller, who is good at his job and revels in the notoriety. He finds his status challenged by the arrival of Russell (Billy Bob Thornton), a maverick veteran who has come to New York seeking greater challenges. Russell once stood under a landing 747 just for the experience. Testosterone quickly fills the air, and a fierce spirit of competitiveness erupts between the two star controllers as they attempt to upstage one another and prove their machismo.
But then Nick breaks an unwritten rule of the tower fraternity when he sleeps with Russell’s seductive young wife Mary (Angelina Jolie, from Hackers, etc). Wracked by guilt, Nick slowly comes apart, and both his career and his marriage are threatened by his uncharacteristic and increasingly erratic behaviour.
Writers Glen and Les Charles, who wrote for tv sitcoms Cheers and Taxi, explore this world with plenty of humour, although the script contains a few slow and awkward patches. British director Mike Newell (Four Weddings And A Funeral, Donnie Brasco, etc) maintains a fairly light tone throughout, although he does bring an edgy humour to the material.
The central performances are all superb. Cusack gives a solid and increasingly neurotic edge to his performance and catches that fragile line that most controllers walk. Thornton brings his characteristic droll style and down to earth charm to his role, and does his best with a slightly underwritten role. Aussie actress Cate Blanchett is strong and appealing as Nick’s bored suburban wife, heavily into self-improvement courses, while Jolie brings a seductive and sexy quality to her lesser but pivotal role.
Pushing Tin is an enjoyable enough film, but somehow its melodramatic plot development leaves one feeling vaguely unsatisfied that it didn’t cut closer to the bone in exploring the on-the-edge lifestyle of these men.