Movies that are topical without trying overtly to be are a rare breed. They try too hard to have their fingers on the pulse and end up alienating their audience by slapping them in the face with patronizing themes and obvious developments. Up In The Air is not a film like that.
The film focuses on Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a corporate mercenary who fly’s around the country doing the dirty work for companies during these tough economic times, laying off their workers for them. He lives a life of isolation, choosing and actually relishing in living a mostly anonymous life. He is a preferred customer at Airlines and Hotels across the country, and loves the perks that come with his loyalty. His company then decides to implement a new technology that will ground Ryan and possibly force him to develop *GASP* a normal, stay at home life.
The plot might sound a little dry, but believe me, the whole thing is surprisingly vibrant. Jason Reitman has fast become one of my favorite directors, and this film shows his maturity as a filmmaker. He handles everything with a subtle passion, and this film takes him from young prospect right into the A-list. He has an eye for interesting stories, ones that are personal, unique, but also human.
As Bingham, Clooney uses his natural charm to win us over. He is a likeable guy, one who accepts the life he has chosen and chooses to make the best of it. In the hands of a lesser actor, the role probably would’ve fallen into some cliched trappings, but Clooney might just be the most charming man on Earth. He walks a tightrope between dickish and suave that not many other actors could pull off. But Clooney takes a character in a unique situation and still makes him seem like an everyman. Yeah, he probably makes good money, he’s obviously one of the best looking men on planet Earth, and he has an innate charisma, but he’s also lacking in a lot of traditional sense. No family, no real friends. His life is literally “fly by night” in every sense of the word.
As the film evolves, we get a look into what it is that Ryan actually does for a living. Reitman made a bold (and ultimately brilliant) decision to use “real” people who had just lost their jobs for the scenes where Ryan lays someone off. There are a couple of exceptions (J.K. Simmons and Zach Galifinakis, respectively) , but the scenes using recently unemployed are more in-depth and powerful. These are people who have real questions, real uncertainty, and are real world.
The performances in the movie are good, one great. George Clooney once again lays a fantastic performance on the audience, and could potentially be a front runner for his second Academy Award. Vera Farmiga plays Alex, a woman Ryan meets in a hotel one night and they really hit it off. They seem to have the same outlook on not only life, but on their prospective relationship. That is, until Ryan starts to take a look around and realize that although he seemingly has nothing except key cards and flyer miles, Alex might be something he wants to pursue a little deeper. Farmiga actually accounts much better for herself her than in another Oscar-darling The Departed, and she feels to be a little bit more comfortable in her skin here. She is given a nice character, but one that also has her fair share of secrets.
Anna Kendrick plays Natalie Keener, the young upstart from Cornell with the idea to make Ryan’s company a little bit more efficient and bring them into the digital age. Of course, Ryan resists this notion of being taken off the road, not only because he’s so close to his goal of 10-million flyer miles, but also because this is the life he embraces. Of course, his boss Craig (Jason Bateman) decides to pair the two of them up on one last road trip so Ryan can show Natalie the real inner workings of the job. The relationship between Ryan and Natalie felt real enough, and seemed mainly a catalyst to force an additional unwanted relationship in Ryan’s life. Kendrick plays the part well, with a subtle dynamic quality, and her character much like all others in the film, is tremendously layered.
The film relies on Ryan, and Clooney is obviously up to the task. Bingham’s life begins to change, and as much as he resists it, he can’t prevent it. He actually begins to change, to develop relationships with Alex and Natalie outside of his traditional parameters for relationships. Most importantly, Ryan is made to choose between what he has and what he may want, and this all leads up to a pretty tense conclusion that really takes the “real” level up.
Ryan decides he wants to take his casual relationship with Alex up a notch, and decides to walk out on an important speaking engagement to hop a flight to surprise her in Chicago. I was a little worried we were headed toward a trip to Clicheville, the happy reunited couple ready to embrace their true love and conquer the world.
Only that doesn’t happen.
Ryan rings the doorbell, happy, a little cold, but ready for his future. Alex answers the door, and in a moment of realization, Ryan notices the children running up the stairs, and hears her husband in the house. Ryan bolts, and for the first time in the film, seems not in control of his life.
And we end right where we began, seemingly. With Ryan, a newly minted American Airlines 10-Million Mile Man (#7) ready for his isolated life above the clouds, his isolated life bouncing from city to city, his isolated life being a stranger to people whose lives he is changing.
Final Score: 9.9/10 (Amazing)