Pushing Tin (1999)

Pushing Tin (1999)

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John Cusack. He likes planes.
John Cusack. He likes planes.

Twitter Plot Summary: John Cusack is a fast talking air traffic controller. He bumps heads with the more laid back Billy Bob Thornton. Hilarity and drama ensues.

Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance

Director: Mike Newell

Key Cast: John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett, Angelina Jolie, Kurt Fuller, Jake Weber, Vicki Lewis.

Five Point Summary:

1. They’re showing kids around on the ACTUAL floor? Stupid, stupid, stupid.

2. Billy Bob Thornton: Master of Burning Matchsticks.

3. Cusackkeepstalkingrrsllyfsstitshardtokeepup.

4. Did you see that? It was Angelina’s… and there they are again!

5. Bomb scare!

Ignoring the poor late-90s CGI aeroplanes in the opening credits, the first thing you pay attention to is that terrible moustache and shirt worn by Jake Weber. His appearance is so very 90s that I almost didn’t believe that it was the same guy who later showed up in the surprisingly good Dawn of the Dead remake. That is nothing compared to the obligatory exposition scene in the diner, where we find out exactly what air traffic controllers actually do. It’s almost as if the scriptwriters were stealing notes from Quentin Tarantino and doing half a job ripping off the opening to Reservoir Dogs. Apparently the writers were heavily involved in writing Frasier and Cheers, and not much else it seems. John Cusack is Nick Falzone, and everything he does – job, talking, driving – goes at a billion miles an hour. He seems to have the attention span of a fish. It appears that this characteristic has also been passed onto his son, who is struggling at school for the very same reason – no attention span. With this clearly established, enter Billy Bob Thornton as Russell Bell, the yin to Cusack’s yang.

They establish a rivalry almost immediately, taking an instant dislike to each other. Falzone is a fast talker whereas Bell is seemingly as laid back as it gets. They’re both very good at their job, in different ways which, of course, adds to the tension between them. The games of oneupmanship inadvertently spreads to their private lives – specifically their partners, played by Cate Blanchett and Angelina Jolie (it was whilst filming this that Billy Bob and Angelina met). Naturally that doesn’t go down well. Even without the high pressure job of landing aeroplanes it would be a very bad idea.

I know Billy Bob Thornton is supposed to be the focus here, but just look at Jake Weber's moustache!
I know Billy Bob Thornton is supposed to be the focus here, but just look at Jake Weber’s moustache!

There’s a heavy emphasis on the stress levels of air traffic controllers – a school kid handily steps up to confirm they have the highest rates of depression, nervous breakdowns, heart attacks and alcoholism in any line of employment. Oh, and suicide too. This is established early on and is played to comic effect when a guy named Dr Freeze returns from long term illness… and gets as far as the front door before nerves get the better of him and he scurries back to his car. Kurt Fuller, in another one of his foreground-background roles, is easily irritated but doesn’t get to do much else other than act flustered. Thankfully he does this rather well.

The majority of John Cusack’s films have a dark, almost black comic tone to them, and Pushing Tin is no different. As the story unfolds the idea of air traffic controllers burning out comes to the fore. But does Nick burn out because of the job, or does he burn out because he takes exception to Russell Bell? You could argue it either way. I’m of the opinion that Falzone is a broken man before Bell turns up, it just takes the arrival of this maverick character and his slightly off kilter wife to push him over the edge.

It ends on a positive note, or at least the possibility of positivity. It wouldn’t suit a Cusack film to have everything tied up neatly by the film’s end, and there is always an element of redemption to whatever messed up character that Cusack inhabits. I’m glad we’re left wondering what will happen to him. At least he made it back into the building.

Favourite scene: The return of Dr Freeze. Played for laughs but with a serious undertone.

Quote: “Oh, you really think the pilot is controlling this plane? That would really scare me.”

Silly Moment:  Bell and Falzone deliberately standing at the end of the runway so they can be knocked off their feet by the landing plane’s wake turbulence.

Score: 3.5/5

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