Pushing Tin

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            Pushing Tin is an air traffic controller’s term for moving around planes.  The better you push tin, the better the air traffic flow and the less probability of traffic delays.  The odds are stacked against you, especially in places like New York where the city’s two major airports are only twenty miles away from each other.  The movie, Pushing Tin, is based on Something’s Got To Give by Darcy Frey, an article about the stressful life of the air traffic controller first printed in The New York Times in 1996. 

            In the film, Nick Falzone (John Cusack) is known as Zone, one of the best air traffic controllers in New York, moving planes around with ease without ever losing an ounce of sweat.  Outside of work, Falzone is an adrenaline junkie, driving fast, drinking hard and flirting with abandon.  At home, Nick is a family man with a wife and children, but his “zone” is in the air traffic control room.  That’s his real home…his sanctuary where Nick Falzone is in his element.  That is, until a new air traffic controlling hot shot is brought into the mix.

            Enter Russell Bell (Billy Bob Thornton), a man known for his eccentricities and a knack for maneuvering airplanes.  Nick immediately sees Russell as his biggest threat in the industry, invading his personal airspace and he wants Russell gone.  Unfortunately, Russell is rather good at what he does and doesn’t appear to want to leave anytime soon.  Nick’s ego begins a downward spiral as he continually “loses” out to Russell’s winning personality and a bitter battle ensues between the two.

            The first time I watched Pushing Tin, I wasn’t exactly a fan.  Sure, there were some funny parts in the film, but for the most part, I didn’t think it lived up to the hype.  Watching it again after all these years, I have a greater appreciation for the film and its psychological foundation.  Here is a man who believes he has it all, but doesn’t really appreciate it until he is about to lose it.  The twist is that, subconsciously, he is actually the person creating the issues that cause him to almost lose everything.  There really is no one else responsible for Nick’s downfall besides Nick.  Perhaps it was his own psyche realizing that he needed to almost lose everything before he could even begin to appreciate what he has.

            The movie also contains an underlying story which reveals the pressures facing air traffic controllers affecting their lives both on and off the job.  As they say, many a truth is said in jest, and this movie makes full use of that saying, tossing around jokes about the numerous air traffic controller marriages that end in divorce, stress-induced psychological breakdowns, sleep deprivation, uncontrollable needs for adrenaline rushes and more.

            John Cusack alternates between sleazy and likeable as Nick Falzone.  Surprisingly, I can almost see what Angelina Jolie saw in Billy Bob Thornton in his portrayal of Russell Bell.  It was in this movie that Jolie met her former mate in Thornton while portraying Russell’s boozing, extremely young wife.  Jolie’s role is nothing special as she seems to be lost in an alcoholic haze most of the time.  Cate Blanchett is very funny as Nick’s wife.  I was surprised to see Molly Price in one of her tinier movie roles as one of the air traffic controller’s wives.

            Pushing Tin is an enjoyable film, but not something you would want to spend a huge amount of money on.  The DVD version of the film is severely lacking in extras - no bonus footage, no “making of” documentaries, no discussion of the article that the film was based on.  I would buy this film at a discount or secondhand price.  The movie is funny and enjoyable, just not worth the $10.00US ticket price.


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