review for Pushing Tin on AllMovie

Pushing Tin (1999)
by Perry Seibert review

To see who picks up the bar tab, each of the air traffic controllers strikes a match and must hold it in his fingers; the first person to let go of his match loses. Long after everyone else has dropped their matches, Nick John Cusack and Russell Billy Bob Thornton are staring each other down as the flames inch closer to their skin. This is one of the many inane challenges the pair competes at as they vie for alpha-male status at their stressful workplace. The film does a masterful job of establishing that it is this intense need for competition and adrenaline that makes these people so good at their jobs. The first half hour of the film has a documentary-like feel for its milieu and characters. Sadly, as the story shifts from workplace competition into a more generic tale of marital infidelities, the film loses the manic originality it started with. Cusack is sharp and has enough faith in the audience to play his character as downright unlikable during much of the film. Thornton is quietly intense. Blanchett economically establishes her love for and dissatisfaction with her husband in a few key scenes at the beginning of the film. Jolie presents the right balance of dangerous, sexy, and sad. As good as the cast is, they cannot quite overcome the lackluster writing that takes over as the film develops. If the scenes of domestic intrigue were written as sharply and had as much energy as the workplace sequences, Pushing Tin might have been a superb postmodern screwball comedy.