Pushing Tin is one of those movies that have at its core a subject that is quite exciting, but fails to realize it to its full potential. With Pushing Tin, the core subject is the lives of air traffic controllers. The movie starts out well, but then it crashes and burns as if there were no air traffic controller guiding this film along.
There are in essence two parts to Pushing Tin. Both parts center on the life of Nick (John Cusack) Falzone. The first part of the film shows Falzone at work as a air traffic controller at one of the most busy air spaces in the world, which is located in New York. Falzone is the best of the best when it comes to air traffic controllers, able to mentally reconstruct the two-dimensional radar display into a three-dimensional image. He can talk faster than the fastest person in the profession and can line up those planes faster than anyone in the office. This first part is fast paced, exciting, and quite watchable. The second part of the film deals with Falzone’s life outside of the air traffic control room. This includes Nick’s wife who is played by the unrecognizable Cate Blanchet.
Everything changes for Nick one day as another air traffic controller, Russell (Billy Bob Thornton) Bell, enters the picture. Bell seems to be the better controller than Nick is, and being the competitive sorts that the both of them are, they are at each other’s throats for the rest of the film. This concocted tension between the two is ludicrous. The tension built like this could have been for any profession, why did writers Glen and Les Charles (who created “Cheers”) have to saddle it with air traffic controllers is beyond me. I mean it could have well been two guys who are laying phone cable and still have been the same movie. The movie’s plot boils down to the common male conflict, “mine is bigger than yours.”
As the movie moves along Nick’s life falls apart and near the end of the movie we’re wondering how things are going to resolve themselves. And things resolve themselves in a typical sitcom kind of way - except that in Cheers the problems are all made and solved in 30 minutes, in Pushing Tin it’s a painful 110 minutes. Let’s just say that Nick’s problems are solved with cold water and jet wash. The ending is just plain silly.
Director Mike Newell who has directed strong films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral does what he can with the awful script. The script is occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, but those moments are far and in between. There was one sequence that I did enjoy and that was the sequence in which Falzone shows off his driving skills to Bell.
The primary actors in the film all do well with the material. Cusack does exceptionally well with his material, giving how thin his part really is. Cusack is able to pump more life into his part just by being onscreen. Thornton is always a reliable actor and he doesn’t fail in Pushing Tin either. His performance is wonderful as the exceedingly quite Bell. Blanchet (Elizabeth) is hilarious in her role.
It’s too bad that Pushing Tin is pushing a bad script. This movie could have been much more. There are great performances in the film and a director that knows what he’s doing. It’s just the script that fails in all ways. The script wanders like a plane in the sky without destination. Skip Pushing Tin in the theatres and save your money for something else. This might be a decent catch on video if you want to see Cusack, Thornton, and Blanchet’s performances, but next to that, it’s a skip on video also.