Pushing Tin - C
Viewed May 2, 1999 at Village East

At First Sight - C
Viewed May 6, 1999 at the Chateau

While Pushing Tin and At First Sight might not seem all that similar -- one's a seriocomic depiction of macho posturing; the other an Awakenings riff -- they both illustrate the Hollywood studios' severe problems with making modestly budgeted films aimed at adults. Both films have intriguing narrative hooks (the life of the air traffic controller; blind man regains sight), but they attempt to add so much extra material that the key idea behind the film gets lost in a morass of disparate elements. I don't know the stories of genesis behind these two films, but I get the feeling that all the extraneous elements were added to "broaden" their appeal, with the end result being that the film appeals to no one.

In Pushing Tin, we start off in the nondescript building that serves as the control center for New York's airspace. Perhaps I'm just a minimalist, but wouldn't Pushing Tin have been more intriguing if it had taken the approach of setting the entire film in the controllers' underground lair[1] and pinned its seriocomic escapades to the extraordinary stresses inherent in their jobs? Instead, we expand to the love lives of the two controllers (John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton) locked in an incredibly dumb dick measuring contest, and the film slowly squanders the promise of its premise. By the end, they might as well be surgeons or race car drivers; the film has lost the unique flavor of its workplace setting. Only the fact that Cusack, Thornton, Cate Blanchett, Angelina Jolie, and an underused Vicki Lewis are an extraordinarily talented ensemble of actors makes this watchable.

In At First Sight, we get two major subplots : the romance between Mira Sorvino[2]'s architect and Val Kilmer's blind masseuse, and the operation that let Kilmer briefly regain his eyesight. The problem here is that the two plots don't mesh all that well; the romance drives the first half, and the operation the second, with surprisingly little interplay between them. There's even a lame subplot involving Kilmer's relationship with the father who abandoned him as a tot. The acting is so-so, with Kilmer turning in an embarrassing performance of bad Method acting[3].

[1]I'm not sure it's underground; I just like saying underground lair in my best Dr. Evil voice.

[2]Who's going for maximal cuteness here.

[3]I find that well-known actors taking on handicapped roles problematic; I'm too aware that they are Acting, and consequently there's a distance between me and the performance that prevents me from being as fully emotionally engaged in their work than I should be. There's also the fact that the performances are usually overdependent on physical mannerisms. In contrast, I usually have no problem if the role's played by a screen newcomer. I have no awareness of them as actors, and they manage to pull me in. Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves and Stacey Edwards in In the Company of Men are perhaps the two most notable recent examples of this.