Pushing Tin Review
By Rob Blackwelder
As tremendously cocksure rival air traffic controllers,John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton amplify the already provokingly chargedatmosphere of "Pushing Tin," a caustic, chaotic, dark comedythat takes place in the killer-stress world of the Long Island's TerminalRadar Approach Control center.
Inside this non-descript, suburban office park bunker,thousands of lives an hour depend on the cool cucumbers who line up planesfor landing at Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark like so many video game blips,always under pressure to keep flights on time while preserving the safetyof the skies.
So you will pardon these guys if they develop a bit ofa deity complex, knowing they have that kind of dominion over billionsof tons of expensive aircraft and all those people's lives.
Cusack and Thornton bring this precision craft vividlyto life as Nick Falzone, the TRACON's undisputed, speed-talking ace controllerand Russell Bell, the stoic cross-country transfer whose daredevil reputationhas proceeded him right into Nick's competitive cross-hairs.
Friendly rivals at first, the unspoken contest slowly simmersuntil chest pounding gives way to practically playing chicken with 747sbefore these two boil over outside the control room when Russell's sauced,sex-bomb of a young wife (Angelina Jolie) throws herself at happily marriedNick.
Inspired by a 1996 pressure-cooker New York Times expos=E9and directed by Mike Newell ("Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Donnie Brasco") "Pushing Tin" presentsair traffic control as an occupation of caffeinated adrenaline and dementedcamaraderie.
Newell -- whose versatility continues to amaze and impress-- builds huge tension simply by moving electronic blips dangerously closeto each other on a screen (then moving inside the screen in a resourcefuluse of CGI effects) while controllers voices rat-a-tat instructions topilots like airspace auctioneers.
When the competition starts to takes a toll on these emba=ttledbrethren, Nick crosses the line one night with Russell's wife. Russell,in turn, threatens -- ever so subtly -- that he may return the insult inkind with Nick's fake fur-and-hoop earrings Long Island poster girl spouse("Elizabeth's" Cate Blanchett, in a fantastic departure from period drama).
"Pushing Tin" has an effervescence about it,largely due to smart writing and even smarter casting.
Cusack is buzzing with hyperactivity and playing his rolewith a modicum of Attention Deficit Disorder developed by working in ajob that never lets you relax for even a second.
By contrast, Thornton is eerily calm and keeps mostly tohimself, percolating with understated testosterone.
Blanchett and Jolie (who have both been doing fantasticunnoticed work for a few years now) follow up their recent breakout rolesin "Elizabeth" and HBO's "Gia" with a pair of pricelessperformances as polar opposite blue-collar brides. If Cusack and Thorntonweren't the exemplary actors they are, these two actresses would have absolutelystolen this movie.
Meanwhile, a hodge-podge of supporting players -- the fabVicki Lawrence of "Newsradio" among them -- help establish thetight insider clique at the air traffic center.
"Pushing Tin" has its faults, not the least ofwhich is its manufactured emergency climax -- a bomb threat during a blizzard.But even that plays like a Western standoff, with Nick and Russell stayingin the building as it is evacuated, so every jet in their airspace canland before they abandon their posts.
But the script missteps are minor in light of the palatableand capricious tournament of anger, tension and scathing comedy in thefinal product. What a fun rush.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 23rd April 1999
Distributed by: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Rotten Tomatoes: 48%
Fresh: 32 Rotten: 34
Cast & Crew