Here is one movie that you will never see on an airplane, a comedy that portrays air-traffic controllers as a gang of half-crazed, sleep-deprived, alcoholic cowboys. Based on a 1996 New York Times Magazine article, it is set in the highstress world of the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control, where men staring at radar blips jockey some 7,000 flights a day in and out of Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports. The title,
Pushing Tin, refers to controllers who take a gonzo pride in pushing planes through the world’s most hectic airspace as tightly as possible to avoid delays. The harrowing details of this pressure-cooker profession are fascinating, especially in the film’s set-up scenes, which play like an air-traffic answer to E.R. But before long, the movie veers wildly off-course, turning into an antic tale of marital infidelity and male bonding. Turns out Pushing Tin is not really about men trying to get a grip on the chaos of converging planes. It’s about men trying to get a grip on what’s in their pants.
John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton star as duelling air-traffic control freaks. Nick (Cusack) is the resident champ, an egomaniac who talks like an arcade kid on am-
phetamines. His primacy in the workplace is challenged when Russell (Thornton), a Zenmaster cowboy with ice in his veins, joins the team. Russell comes equipped with a neglected wife (Angelina Jolie), a babe who dresses like a hooker and has a Popsicle pout that Nick correctly interprets as an open invitation to adultery. This is where the story starts to get wacky.
Pushing Tin is one bumpy ride, although there is much fun to be had along the way. Cusack’s finegrained performance is a pleasure to watch. A walking testament to the weakness of the male libido, he elicits sympathy as a guy who is passionately in love with his wife, irresistibly drawn to another woman, and frantically trying to avoid a collision. As the wife, Elizabeth’s Cate Blanchett pulls off an astonishing 180-degree turn in mid-career to play a suburban housewife with a Long Island accent. And Thornton, who has a priceless scene crooning in a restaurant, shows yet another side to his laconic charisma.
But despite strong performances and some witty scenes, the film’s flight plan seems utterly confused. With British director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Frasco) at the helm, the tone is as erratic as a 747 in heavy turbulence. Flying on a wing and a prayer, Pushing Tin bounces from sex comedy to suspense drama to Airplane farce. And by the time it
tries to touch down with a romantic-comedy ending, the landing gear—that delicate suspension of disbelief—is shot to hell.
THE DREAMLIFE OF ANGELS
Directed by Erick Zonca
This deceptively modest masterpiece has been hailed as one of the best films to come out of France since the heyday of the NewWave in the early 1960s. The claim is not exaggerated. For those who have lost their patience with French cinema after seeing too many middle-aged, middle-class mistress movies, The Dreamlife of Angels is a revelation—a bravely intimate drama that recalls the compassion of Truffaut and the vitality of early Godard.
It is a tale of two restless 20-year-olds adrift in the margins of the working class. Isa (Elodie Bouchez) is a good-natured vagabond who turns up in Lille, a French town near the Belgian border, with just a backpack. She finds work sewing in a garment factory, where she meets a rebellious co-worker named Marie (Natacha Régnier), who is smoking a joint in the women’s washroom. Isa asks to share it, and by the end of the day she is sharing Marie’s apartment.
For a while, they are just two delinquent pals looking for fun. They cruise the mall, teasing rich-looking men with mock propositions. And they engage in some abrasive repartee with two bouncers at a rock club, who become loyal friends. But both women want something more. Isa finds it in the diary of a young woman who once lived in their apartment—and now lies in a coma— while Marie tumbles into an inadvisable romance with a cruel club owner.
Although the film ends on a bleak note, it gets there with such breathtaking honesty that you leave the theatre more invigorated than depressed. Its two stars, Bouchez and Régnier, who shared the best-actress prize in Cannes last May, are both riveting. Bouchez is a gamine with short dark hair, lips always slightly parted in expectation, a mysterious scar bisecting her eyebrow on an angle. Régnier, blond and tense, has the wary, hypersensitive look of a young Isabelle Huppert. Bouchez plays the reckless optimist, Régnier the cynical renegade, but their roles subtly cross.
Writer-director Erick Zonca, making his feature debut at 42, directs with extraordinary finesse. He shoots almost entirely in close-ups, cutting with a lean, kinetic rhythm that draws the viewer into the frame. The visual design is boldly chromatic, the sound raw. But Zonca never pursues style for its own sake, and although the film is deeply rooted in issues of class and gender, its meaning remains as subtly elusive as the title. La vie rêvée could be translated as the dreamlife, or the dreamed life. Either way, this is a dream movie. □
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