Pushing Tin

8 out of 10

"Welcome To My Sky"

With over 7,000 departures a day, the skies above New York, handling flights to and from LaGuardia, JFK and Newark are the busiest in the world. With the exception maybe only of Options Trader on the floor of the Stock Exchange, Air Traffic controllers have easily the most stressful job in the world yet unlike their counterparts in Wall Street, they are not paid salaries that look like telephone numbers. With a 50% "washout" rate amongst those who join and the highest level of clinical breakdowns and suicides, why do people make "pushing tin around the skies" their career? ...To be the best in what is a ring for contant gladiatorial combat of the intellect.

With a mind that musters airliners like a video game, Nick "The Zone" Falzone (John Cusack) is the top controller at Tracom (Terminal Radar Approach Control), not least demonstrated when he helps a waitress at a nearby cafe with a complex order for breakfast for his colleagues that he rattles off at the confused cook without the slightest of difficulty. Happily boasting "I got room for the whole fleet", he has airliners "lined up like rockets" and Connie, a loving, gum-chewing, trailer-trash wife made good, (a remarkable performance for English Cate Blanchette), in a flashy executive home in the suburbs that he often confuses with the others on the project when he finishes for the day. He is the best and he knows it...that is until the enigmatic Russell Bell (Billy Bob Thornton) arrives as the new man. Half-Choctaw, he sports a feather from his headset and is faster and better than "The Zoner". Threatened by Russell, a "stupid game" of oneupmanship develops between them as Zoner tries to outdo Russell, yet always fails with Bell always coming up trumps, unfazed, calm and professionally. Spilling out into their private lives, it quickly involves both Connie Falzone and Mary Bell, Russell's wife (Angelina Jolie), it is a classic portrayal of the very worst of office politics and it most destructive elements which one needs it least where each air traffic controller is responsible for more lives in a shift that a surgeon during a lifetime.

After a fabulous and inspiring intro, backed by a catchy theme tune, it shows us the destructive elements to which we can all relate rather than being a ludicrous, unrealistic hoot. Directed by Mike Newell of "Four Weddings And A Funeral" fame, "Pushing Tin" seems quick and light. Based on a magazine article by Darcy Frey, the screenplay of Glen Charles (more usually known for "Frasier" and "Cheers") provides many interesting asides, including the idea of rounding up disgruntled postal workers to form an elite corps of suicide soldiers and characters like "Dr Freeze", although at times, it does have the feel of a sitcom about it. Even so, whilst savage criticism of "Pushing Tin" left it an "air crash" at the box office, it little deserved the panning it received and remains a worthy and charming flick that deserves to be seen.

Office Politics And Turbulence

Film Critic: Robert L Thompsett