(Reviewed April 1, 1999)
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Pushing Tin, directed by Mike Newell, is a reminder that our popular
culture wants it both ways. On the one hand it thrives, as entertainment has
always done, on the competition of macho men to see who is stronger, smarter,
quicker or more dexterous. On the other hand it feels constrained to deplore
such competition — and, indeed, such a version of masculinity — as
somehow not quite in keeping with the progressive, feminine spirit of our times.
Thus Newell presents us with dueling air traffic controllers — the concept
is not, it has to be said, a very promising one — for the sake of mere
excitement and then proceeds to resolve their competition in a touchy-feely,
feminized display of feelings and vulnerabilities. I don't buy it. If they were
capable of that in the first place, they never would have got into the mess it
gets them out of.
The two controllers are the swaggering Nick “Zone” Falzone (John Cusack),
cock of the walk among his colleagues at the busy New York control center, and
the more quiet and poised newcomer from out West, Russell Bell (Billy Bob
Thornton). Zone can't bear the thought that another controller might be more
nervy, or quicker to spot the possibilities on a crowded radar screen or cooler
under pressure than he is. So he challenges the new guy to all kinds of
competitive trials, most of which he loses, that at various times put at risk
not only their own lives but those of thousands of unsuspecting air travelers.
It is not easy to do this in real life and retain either your job or your
reputation for responsibility and character. But in the movies you can do it
simply by making everything come out all right, which most things here
do — though I won't tell you whether or not a plane goes down. It's sort of
like saying that it ain't bragging if you can do it. And in the movies you can
always do it.
Cate Blanchett plays Mrs Zone, Connie, and she is the most impressive thing
about the film. Is this acting? We don't believe for a moment that this
magnificent creature is the little Italian housewife with the impeccable New
York accent that she pretends to be. She would (and in fact did) seem
underemployed as Queen Elizabeth I. And yet her condescension (in the old, good
sense) in the role is rather touching too. There is something archetypal in her
stooping to conquer such a man as Zone that makes all the more predictably
feminine traits in Russell and his wife, Mary (Angelina Jolie), who seem
to share secrets like a couple of schoolgirls, seem merely trivial in
comparison. In fact, Miss Blanchett is almost enough by herself to make the film
worth seeing — or she would be if we could see a bit more of her at the end
and a bit less of the newly sensitized and feminized Zone.