Pushing Tin [1999]

Blessed by a fantastic cast and slick direction by Mike Newell, Pushing Tin is one of those invigorating movies (like Wall Street or All the President's Men) that takes you behind the scenes of a dramatic profession--in this case, the high-stress world of air-traffic controllers--and throws in a source of conflict to ramp up the tension. For ace "tin-pusher" Nick Falzone (John Cusack), that conflict arrives in the form of Russell Bell (Billy Bob Thornton), an Irish/Choctaw half-breed whose Zen-like control of air traffic immediately puts Nick on the defensive. Add an incident of infidelity and Nick's subsequent self-loathing and guilt, and Pushing Tin turns into a macho pissing match, with Nick's and Russell's spouses (Cate Blanchett and Angelina Jolie, respectively) stuck in the middle. At that point, this otherwise splendid comedy-drama turns almost fatally silly, and it hits additional turbulence by lapsing into a predictable series of pat resolutions. Fortunately, the jazzy cast avoids a nosedive into the tarmac, and if you recall Blanchett's Oscar-nominated performance in Elizabeth, you'll be amazed by her flawless transformation into a smart and sweetly devoted New Jersey housewife. Dialogue is a major asset here, and the script (by TV veterans Glen and Les Charles) gives Cusack & Co. plenty to chew on. That makes Pushing Tin a breezy good time, and its flaws are easily forgiven. --Jeff Shannon

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