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Too Macho For Its Own Good
by SFS Staff on Jul 13, 2004
I pretended I didn't, but as a young girl I did wish the ways of the world and children at play were different, and that I could be allowed - just once - to enter the clubhouse in our attic over which my older brother and his friends presided. Later, emboldened by a few more years and inches, I did sneak into the clubhouse... which, while in some ways thrilling, was, all in all, a disappointment.
Watching Pushing Tin was kind of like sneaking into the clubhouse again.
The (relatively) thrilling part is the culture of air traffic controllers. The believable lingo and atmospheric touches give the impression that Glen and Les Charles, the screenwriters also responsible for the late great TV show Cheers, have done more than hang out in Boston bahs. For ex.ple, scheduling miscalculations resulting in mid-air near-crashes are referred to familiarly as "deals" (three "deals" and an air traffic controller loses his job, according to the movie - heartening, I suppose, if true) and the guys in the tower joke cruelly about the intelligence level of pilots and the paltry amount of skill it takes to operate an airplane as opposed to the mastermind and even keel it requires to manage air traffic. These details are quick and funny and make for engaging and witty banter the likes of which Cheers was known for. And the peek inside "TRACON" (Long Island's Terminal Radar Approach CONtrol) is a tantalizing one. The motley crew guiding all of the airplanes into and out of Kennedy, Laguardia, and Newark airports is led by a high-strung, wise-cracking, and relatively well-intentioned guy's guy named Nick Falzone (John Cusack), who is all too aware of his alpha position. His boyish cum boorish temperament is easy enough to take until it's threatened - by a new arrival to the tower team, a cool as a cucumber sub/urban cowboy by the name of Russell Bell (Billy Bob Thornton).
And then the games begin. The events include: number of airplanes landed in a very short period of time (documentation of this competition involves unnecessarily long takes of video game-esque screens showing airplane-esque l.e.d.s blipping about -- does not make for high drama) , consecutive free-throw shooting, karaoke singing, holding a burning match between thumb and forefinger, and size of your wife's breasts. The movie becomes a tiring contest of male bravado through which Nick's emotional stability is c.pletely undermined by the fact that he takes second place in every event. The macho Olympics culminate in a decidedly sexually subtexted ritual which leaves Russell and Nick lying next to one another on the ground, bruised and breathless.
The peripheral characters -- Angelina Jolie as Russell's p.y.t. Mary, Cate Blanchett as Nick's wife Connie (Aussie doing a Jersey girl accent to an odd effect), and Jake Weber as Nick's best bud are, to my mind, more interesting characters, but we see little of them for all the peacock dancing and ruler reading.
1 hour 52 minutes
Billy Bob Thornton
by SFS Staff on Jul 13, 2004