Review: Up In The Air

UP IN THE AIR (15)

Dir. Jason Reitman (USA)

Starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman.

4/5 stars

Up in the Air is director Jason Reitman’s first film since the Oscar-winning teen comedy Juno (2007), and just like last time critics are lauding praise and mentioning the ‘O’ word.

The story centres on Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), the star employee of a company who specialise in terminating the services of low-level workers for “pussies like Steve’s boss, who don’t have the balls to fire their own employees.” For this he spends 300 days a year traversing the less sexy states of America, building up loyalty points and frequent flier miles in the process.  It is employment to which he is perfectly suited, and for the moment, life is good.

Enter rival colleague Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), and love interest, Alex Goran (Vera Farminga).  Farminga is perfect as the similarly-minded, fellow traveller with whom Bingham starts a casual affair, meeting up whenever their paths cross and parting without any strings. Kendrick, on the other hand, takes a break from the abstinence-inspired Twilight franchise to play Keener, the young and ambitious Ivy League graduate, partnered with Bingham to learn the ins and outs of being a “career transition councillor”.  Of course tensions abound as Keener is also convincing his boss, played with usual flair by Jason Bateman, that firing employees online will reduce costs by negating the need for field operators, threatening to render the set-in-his-ways Bingham, obsolete.

With Up in the Air, Reitman creates a man content to forge an existence without any real genuine interactions with humanity; he revels in the fake smiles of the flight attendants and the “systemised friendly touches” that his stature with the airline, hotel chain and car hire commands.

Over the course of the film the two women thrust upon him begin to show Bingham that his life has become an empty kind of purgatory, perfect only for the perpetually commitment phobic, forcing him to deal with, not only actual humans, but the side of the species with the reputation for unexpected and uncontrollable emotional outbursts.

For a film released in a recession year, where an outstanding number of businesses have downsized, it is easy to make Bingham for a modern day villain. But, of course, this is the untouchable George Clooney, the man who could probably add a sense of nobility, and likability, to even the banking industry so long as he flashed a smile. Thus the film shies away from being too wide a commentary and instead focuses on Bingham’s journey.

Some may get all psychoanalytical and attest that Bingham is the ultimate narcissist; a man all charm and hollow emotions, perfect for the demeaning nature of his work because he is impervious to criticism and offence. On the surface this is as it seems, until you realise that it is Clooney’s character who bests understands the complexities and delicacies of his industry and the doom and despair that he delivers onto his victims every day. And it scarcely needs pointing out that Clooney is on top form in the role, almost too good in fact.  Because once the philosophies of Up in the Air are revealed, it is hard to shake the feeling that, at least on a minor level, this is some sort of an abstract documentary, a celluloid manifestation of Clooney’s lifestyle philosophy.

On the whole, Up in the Air feels like a classical piece of cinema, slick yet deliberate, thought provoking yet subtle, and with some genuinely mature and original performances.  However, despite Reitman’s choice to use some recently-sacked citizens for some of the ‘firing’ scenes, it is hard to shake the thought that it is slightly tame in it’s exploration of the side effects of such a nihilistic vocation, and instead slips somewhat into classical Hollywood rom-com towards the third act.  In spite of his charm, Bingham always feels like a man who chose his vocation because of his principals rather than a man hardened by the harsh work he does on a daily basis.

Although the film tries to redeem itself in the final scenes, it is not quite the masterpiece it could have been had it maintained its original feel. That said, it is still an intelligent and adult take on adult issues and for that it makes up for its inadequacies.

Here’s the Trailer…

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About craig shaw
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