John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett, Angelina Jolie, Jake Weber,
Written by Glen Charles and Les Charles.
Directed by Mike Newell.
Review by Carlo Cavagna.
Heaven help us all if real-life air traffic controllers are anything like the folks in Pushing Tin. Just the thought is enough to make me travel on Amtrak. According to Pushing Tin, air traffic controllers have the highest incidence of suicide, divorce, and alcoholism. I guess the pressure of being responsible for so many lives can get to people. But that fact still doesn't make the lives of the controllers in Pushing Tin the least bit believable.
John Cusack plays Nick Falzone, top dog at New York's Terminal Radar Approach Control Center, where he and his colleagues direct airplanes in and out of America's most congested airspace. Nick is less than pleased when Russell Bell (Billy Bob Thornton) is transferred to New York, where he immediately begins outperforming Nick. Nick's competitiveness gets the better of him, to the point where he pursues Nick's pouty wife (Angelina Jolie) while his own marriage and job performance suffer.
In the unraveling of Nick's life--entirely by his own hand--Pushing Tin contains the kernel of a good drama, but the screenwriters Glen and Les Charles haven't written a drama. They've written a comedy, complete with zany characters and a super-sized ending with extra cheese. Russell Bell is the most ridiculous character of the lot. He gambles with people's lives in order to shave a few minutes off of flight times--and this is considered a good thing! He sings! He's a daredevil! He's a philosopher! He never misses a basketball shot! He's got Angelina Jolie all over him! Russell is absurd, but not remotely funny. Despite his talent for deadpan humor, Thornton can't take this character anywhere.
Most critics have lambasted Pushing Tin for getting away from the comedy, which is most plentiful in the first third of the movie, but in reality the problem with Pushing Tin is that it doesn't commit to being a drama. Nick's downfall is far more interesting than a sporadically funny portrayal of wacky air traffic controllers. Casting Cusack as Nick was inspired. Not only does he nail his character, but Cusack tends to elicit sympathy even when he's playing unlikeable characters such as Nick. Cate Blanchett is also engaging as Nick's wife. Completely unrecognizable from her performance in Elizabeth, Blanchett is 100% Long Island housewife. Clearly, Blanchett can count range among her acting talents. Jolie, however, is disappointing. As Russell's alcoholic wife, she sleepwalks through the movie as if she's still hung over from her outstanding performance in Gia.
Review © May 1999 by AboutFilm.Com and
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