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Pushing Tin

List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Aaron Beierle | posted January 5, 2000 | E-mail the Author
"Is that crisp vectoring or what?" -John Cusack's character in "Pushing Tin"

I'm always thankful when films can introduce me to a world I've never before been a part of. "Rounders", for example, took us through the world of underground poker clubs in New York City last year. It's unfortunate that we usually feel as if we've seen it all, though. Or at least some variation on it. Another rare glimpse into a new world has come along in "Pushing Tin", a look at a band of air traffic controllers. Instead of centering a movie around the jobs of these brave souls though, it tries to have a romantic comedy/drama with random scenes in the control room; those scenes are by far the most interesting in "Pushing Tin", a movie that has a very nice takeoff and landing, but the middle of the trip goes through quite a bit of turbulence.

John Cusack, one of my very favorite actors, stars as Nick Falzone, a swift and smart controller who runs the pack of controllers that spend their days and nights at the base, where they lead the incoming and outgoing planes through the skies of New York City. It's Cusack's wired energy as Falzone that makes even the slowest moments towards the middle of the film at least watchable. And as always, Cusack is fascinating to watch, an actor who seems to have a million things going on in his mind all at once. The fun of a Cusack performance is that he's not only hyperactive, but unpredictable.

And the film starts off being unpredictable as well and that's the joy of it. Watching these comedically hyperactive controllers spit out commands to the planes flying high above New York City and occasionally stepping back to admire their skillful "vectoring". It starts off sharp, funny and smart. It keeps going as we meet a new controller, Russell Bell(Billy Bob Thornton), a controller who keeps cool through any situation and rarely says a word. In other words, the direct opposite of Cusack's Falzone. You can almost smell a fight brewing between these two characters and for a while, there are great small hints, such as seeing who can hold a lit match longest or a basketball game. But it never quite follows through on the rivalry between these two characters.

The film was written by Glen and Larry Charles, who were responsible for the classic TV show "Cheers". The comedy here definitely works very well in the control room. But once we step out of the control room, the film begins to fall apart. I won't give away any plot, but the wives of the two controllers figure their way into the story( Cate Blanchett as Falzone's wife and Angelina Jolie as Thornton's ) and as problems arise between all four of them, the movie suddenly switches to a drama....and then, a very serious drama. Where did this come from? The script doesn't seem to know how to handle drama very well at all and it feels forced (and even depressing) after watching the funny first half of the film. The first half is not only funnier, but it's smarter and more believeable: the second half ends with a random bomb threat to the control base that doesn't fit in at all with the rest of the film. And to top it off, we get another section where Falzone visits Bell in the mountains and by this point, I was wondering just when this film would decide that enough is enough. It seems as if "Pushing Tin" has run out of things to say at this point and that brings me to the biggest problem of all: this movie really doesn't need to be over 120 minutes. There could have been quite a bit trimmed from the slow middle of the film to make it seem a little less on the slow side.



Performances are good, but not all of the characters are very well written. Cusack's Falzone seems to be the only lively character amongst a group of fairly low-key ones: we've got Thornton's zen controller, who rarely says a word and when he does, it's all simplistic zen phrases; Jolie as Mary Bell, who provides a nice chemistry with Cusack; and Cate Blanchett, who seems silent compared to Cusack's energetic performance. We don't find out much of anything about the rest of the supporting characters in the control room and even Thornton's Bell isn't given much of a story beyond his character's legendary act: he once stood on a runway where a 747 flew overhead, the force sending him flying off the runway.

It's really too bad that the filmmakers felt the need to throw in a conventional and tired romantic comedy/drama subplot in this film. Even if it was only 90 minutes, I would rather have spent those 90 minutes watching these people at work, trying to gather hundreds of planes in a direct line towards the runways of New York. I left "Pushing Tin" dissapointed; even though I enjoyed the performances, the second half of the movie isn't nearly as watchable as the film's begining and the longer the film stays outside the control room, the slower it becomes. The scenes in the control room are the only ones of any electricity in a film that unfortunately lacks spark.

Technically, the film is enjoyable. I enjoyed Gale Tattersal("From The Earth To The Moon")'s cinematography, effectively bringing to life the wired control tower and the various scenes filmed in and around Toronto. Some nice special effects touches by Blue Sky/VIFX as well: all of the planes featured in the film are digital effects.

The DVD VIDEO: Certainly an above average non-anamorphic transfer. Fox did well recently with the transfer of "Ravenous" and although I wish they would go anamorphic(and they are, starting with "The Thin Red Line" in November). Still, this is a sharp, clear transfer with a minimal amount of problematic elements. The sort of washed-out skies of the city and bleak colors of the control tower(lit by various computer screens), look natural and well-saturated. Brightness and contrast remain consistently very good and flesh tones are natural throughout. Detail is consistently good.

The only problem that I noticed with the transfer was the occasional instance of shimmering. Still, I was suprised by how few instances of it I saw. I didn't notice any pixelization, either. Maybe this isn't always quite as sharp as it could be, but I was still suprised just how good it looked.

SOUND: "Pushing Tin" occasionally throws a fastball in it's sound mix when it's not focusing mainly on dialogue. There are a couple scenes of planes flying overhead where you literally feel as if you're underneath a plane. There's also planes flying through every so often and they pass through the sound stage clearly and wonderfully. Occasional ambient sounds are crystal clear as well. Dialogue is especially nice here, sounding clear enough to be in the same room. Anne Dudley's score is crisp and clear, filling the room.

MENUS: Cute animated main menus. Nothing shocking or amazing, but still nice to see.

EXTRAS:: The trailer.

Final Thoughts: It's really unfortunate that Fox still chooses to price new releases at $34.99. At that price, only fans of this film will even think about buying it. At that price, you're not going to get a lot of people willing to take a risk on it. Above and beyond that, Fox certainly isn't offering much- although they put together a huge special edition for the even smaller "Ravenous", all you get here is a trailer.


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