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Pushing Tin

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Pushing Tin

Starring: John Cusack, Billy Bob Thorton
Director: Mike Newell
Rated: R
RunTime: 124 Minutes
Release Date: April 1999
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Cate Blanchett, Angelina Jolie, Jake Weber, Vicki Lewis, Kurt Fuller

Review by Walter Frith
3 stars out of 4

A children's tour group is shuffled through an air traffic control center and while the tour guide is trying to make his usual informative speech, one nerdy little kid observes that air traffic controllers have one of the highest stress jobs imaginable. Describing the job that leads many of them to become alcoholics, insomniacs, nervous wrecks, air traffic controller Nick Falzone (John Cusack) says: "You forgot suicide, kid". Suicide in this line of work doesn't just mean the loss of life. There are many ways to die in this job. Three mistakes in two and a half years by allowing planes to come too close to each other on your radar screen means your job is killed. Having an affair with a colleague's wife can mean the death of your marriage. And remaining in the building when a bomb threat becomes a serious threat can indeed kill you.

What makes 'Pushing Tin' work so well the way it does is that the film is layered with many whimsical anecdotes and makes a tediously old story of marital infidelity seem fresh and alive with short controlled burst of laughter rather than genuine belly laughs.

Nick's fellow colleagues in the air traffic control business are the kind of people you want to socialize with. They keep a sense of humour about themselves during the most stressful points on the job. They often place bets on a colleagues performance and frantically exchange the money between themselves when the payoff comes. They often get together for barbecues, play pool and drink while toasting to their job which, believe it or not, is a real marvel. An observation made in the film is that an air traffic controller is responsible for more lives in one day on the job than a surgeon is for his entire career. The story is set around the New York City area where three airports, JFK, LaGuardia and Newark International are all within twenty miles of one another. Incidents involving planes flying too close to one another appear to be a regular thing if you believe the display of events in this film. I'm sure this will cause a lot of talk among aviation analysts, the general public and air traffic controllers themselves as well as the Federal Aviation Administration as to just how accurate this information is.

Nick seems to be a happily married man. His wife Connie (Cate Blanchett - Oscar nominee from 'Elizabeth') is a loving wife and they have two kids. Their lives are turned upside down by the arrival of Russell Bell (Billy Bob Thornton) and his sex pot wife Mary (Angelina Jolie). Russell is a colleague of Nick's who has worked as an air traffic controller in many locations around the U.S. and Nick has a one night stand with Mary while Connie says she slept with Russell although we don't know if this ever happened since we don't see it.

What makes the film work is that many of the scenes involving infidelity and the talk surrounding it have many injections of off beat humour that are appealing and director Mike Newell ('Donnie Brasco'), directs 'Pushing Tin' in the same manner he did with 'Four Weddings and a Funeral'. There is a zany but realistic flare emphasized in the film's comic moments and pushing tin is a slang expression which refers to the job an air traffic controller has of directing huge aircraft safely through the skies of the world's most hectic city.

The strikingly original screenplay is by Glen Charles and Les Charles based on an article by Darcy Frey entitled 'Something's Got to Give'). The film's score is also very entertaining and is by Oscar winner Anne Dudley ('The Full Monty').

What's most interesting about this film is the excellent performance of John Cusack. Cusack has denied himself the opportunity to become a huge star like Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford. A group he can easily fit into but he has instead purposely opted for the quirky and off beat roles he's enjoyed and is one of the best actors out there. But more than that is the bizarre, and at times hilarious performance of Billy Bob Thornton. He has made a habit of playing bizarre and unorthodox characters in 'Sling Blade' and 'A Simple Plan'. And if you liked him in those films, don't miss 'Pushing Tin'. His character in this film enjoys mind games, sleeping through possible traffic accidents where he may be a victim, shooting hoops without missing very often, and standing under 747's as they fly over his head upon landing on runways and the concussion of the plane's sweeping force lifts him off his feet and hurls him many feet into nearby fields where he laughs his head off upon hitting the ground. He reminds you off a circus performer and free spirit at the same time. All in keeping with the film's general theme which is a balanced and totally redeemable comedy for adults. You may not want to fly for a while after seeing the movie as it plays on the paranoia of air travel the way 'Jaws' played on the paranoia of going swimming in the ocean.

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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