December 30, 2009 > Movie Review
By Joe Samagond
Up in the Air (2009) is based on a novel by Walter Kirn (2001) and directed very well by Jason Reitman. Its underlying theme - laying off employees - is painfully timely. While funny in parts, it is not a comedy but really shines at many different levels.
George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, who spends more than 300 days a year, between airport, rental car and hotel. His lifestyle entails a dislike for home living and commitments. His personal goal is reaching the 10-million-mile mark on American Airlines. Fewer people have done that, he claims, than have walked on the moon.
He works for a company that has about two dozen pros like him, sent to fire people on behalf of their management. Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a young new employee and recent Cornell grad, is proposing a way to reduce costs by doing these layoffs virtually, thereby further increasing company profits by removing travel costs. Even Ryan, who has been breaking news to stunned employees across America that their position "is no longer available" finds that a bit too harsh. However, he is tasked with showing her the ropes so that she can fine tune this new system.
Another key character is Alex (Vera Farmiga), a female business traveler who shares Bingham's love for the perks of frequent flying. They synchronize schedules to have trysts and steamy airport or hotel rendezvous. Their odd relationship is well portrayed in this story. We are also gently made aware of Ryan's family connections through his sisters, one of whom is getting married soon. Just like his professional persona, Ryan is shallow in his family dealings too. He, interestingly enough, also gives seminars to people on how to become as detached from human interactions, like him!
The movie has a good flow with narrative shifts of momentum and quiet scenes that often touch an emotional chord. Clooney rises to the occasion and delivers another, possibly award-winning, performance. He has aged gracefully but still has boyish charm; this time with an edge that comes with what can only be considered the worst job in the world. Director Reitman has delivered another great movie and draws the best from his star cast. The movie's ending is both logical and surprising.
"Up in the Air" perfectly captures not only the effects of the recent economic downturn but also what the last decade has become.
Runtime: 1 hour 49 minutes