Pushing Tin is a movie about the high-pressure world of air traffic control and the types of people who choose that profession as a career. John Cusack plays Nick, a self-assured controller known for being one of the best controllers around. Enter Russell, played by Billy Bob Thornton, another hotshot controller who takes more of a Zen approach to air traffic control.
Nick is used to being the best, but Russell challenges that, and Nick's confidence begins to waver. He is in a relationship with Connie but is also very attracted to Mary, Russell's despondent young wife. Nick finds Mary sobbing in a grocery store and helps her home, where they wind up in each other's arms for the night. This night of passion only makes him more paranoid that he is not the hotshot he's always thought he was. He worries that Connie will seek revenge by having sex with Russell.
Soon thereafter, a bomb threat is made at their office. Nick and Russell compete against each other, landing plane after plane before the time the bomb is supposed to detonate. Nick leaves at the very last minute, dashing to safety as the clock strikes zero. Russell calmly walks out of the building after the time limit expires. There was no bomb.
The contrast of their exits totally shatters what confidence Nick has left. He tries to work but screws up twice. Nick has only one more chance, but he's lost his nerve.
With nowhere else to turn, Nick seeks Russell's counsel to help him regain his confidence. Russell shows him how by replicating a stunt he pulled to free his own mind of insecurity. It involves letting a plane fly directly over Nick's head while he stands on a runway. The jet wash knocks him head over heels. It's very dangerous, but he survives it and regains his self-respect as well as his confidence.