I watched “Up in the Air” on New Year’s eve and I would say its the best film I saw in 2009 – and I still haven’t seen anything that has changed my mind. “Up in the Air” is from Director Jason Reitman who made the wonderfully cute 2007’s “Juno”. His reworking of Walter Kirn’s novel captures the sensibility that Kirn plugged into – the subculture of the constant traveler, in pursuit of frequent-flyer miles, upgrades, perks that accrue to the loyal and regular customer. Reitman has portrayed the perfect character for these times in the US: a courtly and affable grim reaper named Ryan Bingham, embodied by the immaculate Clooney in what could be his Oscar-winning performance.
Mild Spoiler alert ahead:
Bingham (George Clooney) works for a consulting group in Omaha, which hires itself to companies that need to lay off groups of employees in one time-managed swoop. So Ryan Bingham becomes the face of downsizing, the one who explains the situation, thanks them for their work and wishes them well on their future endeavors. And no one at the company that’s actually laying off has to get his or her hands dirty.
He seems to spend weeks on the road at a time, returning home to main office and a bare-bones apartment to change up his stuff. He is really most at home in the airport, on the airplane, in the Admiral’s Lounge, at a hotel, in a rented car – a road warrior, in other words.
He slips away from his executioner’s life on occasion to deliver motivational speeches, which are titled, “What’s in your backpack?” The intention is to get people to throw away a lot of the baggage they carry around that’s slowing them down in their life and career – but it might as well be a primer about what’s important to Ryan Bingham, which is to be left alone and to travel without distraction or interruption.
His goal is to join the elite ten-million-miles club, which he is rapidly approaching. He would be the 7th person to do so if he succeeds. But his whole way of life is threatened when his boss (Jason Bateman) brings in a young consultant bearing the next wave: video-conferenced firing sessions, removing the need for people like Ryan to fly anywhere.
Her name is Natalie (Anna Kendrick – of the Twilight movies) and she’s convinced that she’s the wave of the future. But Ryan objects to his suave boss Craig (Jason Bateman), saying that eliminating the face-to-face element is, in essence, cutting their own throat and making themselves redundant. That his in-person approach is what keeps the job relevant, necessary and bearable.
Clooney is perfect in this role: disciplined, under control, funny, smooth and seemingly invulnerable. But this is a movie about a man surprised to discover that he is, in fact, vulnerable to all the things he’s avoided for most of his professional life. And Clooney does a good job, without appearing cocky and playboy-ish as we know him from the Ocean’s 11,12 & 13 series.
The move is equally sad and funny. I am predicting this movie to be an Oscar pick.
Recommended: Definitely Yes