Posted by: on Nov 30, 2011 | No Comments

Review of Up In the Air, 2009.

Written by Jim Haake

I’ve decided to continue my current George Clooney obsession (not in a sexual way, just in an great actor/director kind of way) with a more recent film of his, a compelling human drama about a man with no home. Directed and written by Jason Reitman, of Juno fame, Up in the Air features Mr. Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a euphemistically named ‘corporate downsizer’. Companies around the USA hire his company to ‘downsize’ them, so his company sends him to go and fire people. He spends most of the year on planes, in hire cars, in hotels, living a transient lifestyle that Bingham actually seems quite attached to. Vera Farmiga stars as Alex, another traveler, who Bingham starts a relationship with, mostly consisting of nights in hotel rooms whenever and wherever the two cross paths. Completing the crowd of three that makes up the main cast is Anna Kendrick, who plays Natalie, a rookie ‘downsizer’ who ends up travelling with Bingham.

On the surface, this film resembles another of Reitman’s releases, Thank You For Smoking, released in 2005. Both films are about strong male characters involved in unsavoury businesses, and both are distinctly American films in that they deal with typically American subjects (big business, lobbyists, air travel etc.). But there is where the similarities end. Thank You For Smoking has an, if not redemptive, then at least reassuring ending, whereas Up In The Air is emotionally devastating for all involved. In fact, I would have appreciated a warning. Before the film, I was confident that everything was right with the world. Now I am a bitter husk of a man, cynical and devoid of emotion. Ok, maybe that’s going a bit far, but the point remains: this film does not end happily.

Clooney is superb as Ryan Bingham; a man who proclaims proudly that he only spends forty days a year at his apartment, and whose lifetime ambition is to reach ten million frequent flier miles. He also occasionally unleashes that smooth tongue that worked so well in Ocean’s Eleven and The Ides of March. The relationship between Ryan and Alex is the main romantic focus of the film, but I found the competitive father/daughter relationship that arises between Natalie and Ryan to be more interesting. Even though they are in direct competition with each other (Natalie wants to introduce firing via Skype, a move that would destroy Ryan’s nomadic lifestyle), an uneasy truce, and eventually respect, develops between the two. Farmiga and Kendrick are also excellent; Kendrick particularly has a disarming ability to seem both business-like and vulnerable at the same time.
One memorable scene, in which Bingham and Natalie get deep into the business of actually firing people, is made even better by the fact that the director genuinely drafted in people who had actually been laid off to play the employees, thus giving them a second chance to respond to those firing them.

The tagline of the film was something about a ‘man ready to make a connection’, and that really sums up what the film is about, besides the ins and outs of air travel, a man with no connections who decides it is time he makes some, even if it hurts to do so.