Perhaps we can be forgiven for wanting gods, not monsters, to deliver us from air to ground.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

After Pushing Tin, you may spend more time than is comfortable thinking about the air traffic controllers who guide you through the clouds. In place of the anonymous, but flawless, creatures of our imaginations, John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton will come to mind as they manipulate take-offs and landings-especially those landings-under sizzling pressure.

"Pushing Tin," the phrase, refers to the speed with which a controller threads planes down through traffic holes toward the runway. Conservative controllers: big backups, delays, airline complaints. Cowboys: steep descents, sudden shifts, risks, on-time arrivals. Nick Falzone (John Cusack) is among the bestof the traditionalists; Russell Bell (Billy Bob Thornton) is king of the cowboys.

The movie focuses on the frenzy of the control room and its corrosive effect on the men and one woman who negotiate the intricate air traffic patterns over Metropolitan New York. The controllers talk to themselves, sing and dance--anything between near-misses to release the tension. Nick alternates between brittle chatter and instant laser-like concentration. Gridlock in the air brings out the best in him.

When Russell Bell arrives with his reputation for derring-do and eccentricity, the chemistry in the tower is disrupted, the self-confidence of the controllers rattled. Here is an unknown who reveals nothing of himself, a calm risktaker with a certainty born of a curious kind of courage. Russell and Nick become competitors at work and at play.

It's the play that's unnerving. Based on a New York Times Magazine article that discussed the high rates of alcoholism, suicide, and depression in the profession, the movie suggests that controllers are hard-wired to traffic control and have a terrible time turning that energy down when they go home. So we see these competitive men making a game out of everything they do. They drive fast, drink, invent games, and change women often.

The amazing Cate Blanchett has chosen the role of Long Island housewife as follow-up to her Oscar nominated performance in Elizabeth. There's not a visible ounce of England in Connie Falzone, a suburban American wife trying to sustain marriage to a live wire.

Billy Bob Thornton is remarkable as the enigmatic Russell. With very few lines and some telling behavior, he manages to create an original character. Who is this man? How did he get this way? We want to know. John Cusack is an actor incapable of an ordinary performance. He's full of flash and seriousness, energy and contemplation. Like Thornton, he's interesting.

The problem here is that the movie isn't up to its performers. It's a case of good actors in search of a script. Whenever they leave the subject of the control tower, the writers run out of steam and story. Their controllers are sharp on the job, in spite of periodic nervous breakdowns, but outside of that room they are an unimpressive lot. Perhaps we can be forgiven for wanting gods, not monsters, to deliver us from air to ground.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 500
Studio : Fox 2000
Rating : R
Running time : 1h55m

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