Up In The Air

****

Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

Clooney received a Best Actor nomination for Up In The Air
"A quick script and sharp performances all round help deliver an enjoyable, if ultimately sentimental commentary of the times."

During an economic crisis a movie about corporate downsizing and redundancy could get called many things. Timely, to say the least.

Fortunately, director Jason Juno Reitman and lead George Clooney have enough smarts and charisma to make sure Up In The Air doesn’t get grounded by anything too stormy. A quick script and sharp performances all round help deliver an enjoyable, if ultimately sentimental commentary of the times.

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Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a dextrous management consultant parachuted into failing companies to break the bad news to the unfortunates lined up for the chop. The smooth past-master has travelled all over the States to dole the dirty and, in the current financial situation, business has never been so good. He knows it’s tough for the nearly ex-employees, but he’s happy as long as the airmiles are racking up. He hates being at home, lives out of his ordered suitcase and loves the deluxe frequent flier lifestyle of constant flights, fine hotels and superior perks. Soon he’ll surpass his golden goal of 10 million miles and gain entry to the most exalted loyalty club there is.

Things just get better when he taxis into the sassy Alex at a hotel bar. Sexy, competitive flirting over loyalty account cards ensues and soon Ryan’s got another reason to enjoy airport stopovers. Then things just get worse as young new efficiencies-thinker Natalie comes up with a substantial dollar-saving idea: fire people via internet video-links. Less hassle, less travel, less cost, a downsize. Fighting for his way of life, Ryan’s granted one last multi-stop trip so he can let Natalie in on how to let people go. But with the feisty, intelligent ingénue analysing his life and Alex on his mind, he eventually starts to question the mannered stasis of always being up in the air.

Ryan works people’s psychology but he’s blind to his own Achilles' heel hidden in his custom-made slip-ons. There’s black irony in his expounding why it’s better to fire someone to their face when he doesn’t have a single real one-on-one bond. It may be a world away from a teenager’s high school, but Reitman’s poking away at modern relationships again. He builds on Ryan’s character from Walter Kirn’s novel to expose the basic need to not be alone, to have connections of substance not transience, to be part of something rather than passing through. With the industry settings ramping the theme up to a global scale, Up In The Air looks down at our mass interconnectivity and asks: are we really talking to each other? Jeesh, it’s not quite first-class Capra sentimentality, but it’s certainly flying in that direction.

There are some very humorous moments, and not just at the stresses of negotiating airports. Anna Kendrick’s Natalie has gumption in a shark’s world and gets the more functional comedy moments, although she’s not as multi-dimensional as the smart words might suggest. Vera Farmiga’s Alex is knowing, very capable and a worthy sparring partner for Ryan. Clooney excels, meting out the laughs with nary more than a change of expression or an expertly lathed phrase, again showing he can truly act funny. More importantly, as Ryan’s isolation dawns, he expertly cradles both the romance and pathos.

Reitman gave corporate America a deliciously caustic roughing up with 2006’s Thank You For Smoking and ‘Business’ is back in his sights, although for more of a Dutch rub this time. Job losses are not just the rather acrid icing on an otherwise sugary cake, though. He takes the self-assured step of filming real people recently made redundant talking about their experiences. It does add a credible, contemporary quality, but sadly pales towards the end as the Jerry Maguire montage-effect is inevitably evoked.

Still, it’s Ryan, not them, who evinces what financial institutions can reduce people to. For a long time cinema has shown the American dream was a punctured promise and here Ryan just sells people another dream to keep them moving on. The film seems to conclude that while those soulless institutions got us into this mess, it’s up to the US consumer to get through it by rallying back into their communities where the real joy is; don’t worry about the money because it can’t make you that happy anyway. Right, or trite? Either way, it cruises pretty close to mawkish.

Overall, Up In The Air may be a nimbly romantic, suavely intelligent and emotionally satisfying domestic ticket at heart, but there are real business-class treats to be had along the way.

Reviewed on: 24 Oct 2009
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Up In The Air packshot
George Clooney stars a corporate downsizing expert who, faced with being grounded, makes one last trip in a bid to convince his employers to keep him in the air.
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Director: Jason Reitman

Writer: Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner, based on the novel by Walter Kirn

Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Danny McBride, Melanie Lynskey, Sam Elliott, JK Simmons

Year: 2009

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

London 2009

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