Up In the Air (2009)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on December 20, 2009 @ tonymacklin.net.

Up in the Air is all over the place. It flies the friendly skies of termination.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a casual cynic and pleasant pragmatist who flies around the country as the hired executioner for corporations that are downsizing.

He has a job to do, and he does it with cool, uninvolved style. He is unbothered by the human debris he leaves in his wake. Instead he is dedicated to getting special material rewards, culminating in joining the honor role of the special few who have achieved the highest number of miles spent in the air.

Ryan's not evil. He's just living in an insulated world of perks and jerks. The parameters of his world are the high cumulus and the bottom line.

As he travels across the country he meets Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), who is the female reflection of him. She too is witty and classy. She too loves the game of corporate traveling life. There's a scene in which they compare credit cards, rewards, and perks which is a delight.

Ryan and Alex meet for nights of romance in different cities where their travel paths cross, but they have no commitment and no responsibility to each other.

Ryan's world is unsettled when Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a blithe, young, efficiency expert joins the company for which he is the star employee. She convinces the boss (Jason Bateman) that they can fire people over the Internet and cut out traveling.

Before they put that plan into action, Ryan gets his boss to have Natalie travel with him to see how he does his job before it's transformed. He doesn't want her to mess with his peripatetic perks.

On their trip Natalie is shaken by their encounters with those they're firing, and she struggles to keep her equilibrium.

Alex joins them, and she and Ryan mentor the naive Natalie. They all let loose in Miami.

Ryan has to attend his younger sister's wedding in Wisconsin, and he invites Alex to accompany him. He begins to imagine that Alex and he could have a future. Is it an illusion or a real possibility?

George Clooney, of course, is ideal at humanizing the amoral Ryan [are there any courses in business ethics anymore?] He will get a nomination for Best Actor.

He also should get a nomination for worst on-screen kisser for his close-mouthed bussing. You'd think this matinee idol would learn this basic.

Ryan Bingham could be the role of a lifetime, but Clooney has reached the Robert Redford stage -- he is more of a commercial product than an actor. He doesn't take many chances anymore. It's too bad -- a little more Sammy Glick in Clooney's Ryan Bingham would have helped.

Vera Farmiga makes an enticing Alex. The scenes between Clooney and Farmiga have snap and crackle, but when their characters travel to the hinterlands of Wisconsin for the wedding, the movie becomes sodden.

Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner wrote the screenplay from a novel by Walter Kirn. Reitman directs with a soft hand. The satire that was sharp in Reitman's Thank You for Smoking (2005) is blunted in Up in the Air.

Reitman hired actual people to talk on screen about their being fired. But he tries to have it both ways.

Near the end of Up in the Air, the message of the actual people is "firing may have serious side effects, but family is good." It's a sop.

Maybe they're medicated.

Perhaps Reitman wants to be Frank Capra, but he's more Joe Lieberman,

Given his style and tone in Up in the Air, Reitman would make a good lobbyist for Big Pharma.

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