Up in the Air Review

Jason Reitman’s Oscar-nominated new film Up in the Air with master charmer George Clooney in the lead role is a multilayered and unusually complex work that clearly intends to make its audience think after viewing and perhaps even ponder their own beliefs. In the works since Reitman penned the initial scenario based in Walter Kirn’s autobiographical novel back in 2004, the project took shape gradually with the crowd-pleasing bits on the plight of the unemployed, filmed with real life St. Louis residents who had recently lost their jobs, thrown in as Oscar qualifiers more recently when job losses mounted due to the global recession in late 2008 and early 2009.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a successful human resources professional who spends 322 days a year flying around the country firing people whose bosses prefer to outsource the termination process of their employees to a third party. Happily free of social obligations, always moving and leaving his newly unemployed victims “up in the air”, he lavishes in the comfort of posh hotel suites, gives occasional talks on his “empty backpack” approach to life, and dreams of clocking up 10 million miles in his American Airlines account, which would earn him exclusive membership status and a chance to meet an airline captain.

In a chance encounter, Ryan comes across the similarly detached thirty-something-year-old Alex (Vera Farmiga) at an airport lounge, chats her up, spends the night with her and to his surprise discovers that she appears to be on the same wavelength as he. At about the same time, Ryan’s bosses are convinced by new hire Natalie (Anna Kendrick) to cut back on the company’s operating expenses by firing people online through a Skype-like videoconferencing system instead of sending representatives to perform the terminations in person. As a result, Ryan is grounded and furious when he storms into his boss’ office to demand an explanation and challenge Natalie and her cost-cutting ideas. The confrontation does him no good, however, and he ends up becoming Natalie’s new mentor, coaching her through the termination procedures.

As Ryan and Natalie work together, firing people both remotely and in person, Natalie looses her uptight demeanor, begins to feel guilty about leaving people without jobs and even breaks down in public when her boyfriend dumps her via text message. This transformation is mirrored in Ryan, who becomes increasingly unsure of his own ways as he allows his feelings for Alex, whom he barely knows, to overcome him. His doubts and unease lead him to attend his sister’s wedding in snowy northern Wisconsin and at one point convince the cold-footed groom – and himself in the process – in the advantages of marriage.

While some viewers may feel tempted to dismiss Up in the Air simply as a dragged out love story gone awry or, worse even, as a seemingly pointless exercise in stylistic filmmaking, such interpretations – while undeniably valid on a certain level – would only be scratching the surface of what this complex work really has to offer. Carefully peeling away the layers of meaning, however, reveals a somewhat different picture – a story about the lack of human connection brought on by busy lifestyles and the pervasive use of technology; of the desensitization of the modern individual and the disappearance of traditional values; and the tragedy of self-induced alienation juxtaposed with the contrast of reality versus romantic imagination.

Eye-opening social commentary at its best and an entertaining way to spend the evening at worst, Up in the Air meets the high expectations it has set for itself. Maintaining its message open-ended throughout, the film encourages viewers to come up with their own interpretations instead of spelling out moralistic cliches and hence can be considered as superficial or as profound as its audience wishes it to be. Though clearly not for everyone, Up in the Air would definitely be recommended for all those who consider themselves to be connoisseurs of good cinema and do not mind seeing a film that dares to bring up difficult social issues as well as, of course, fans of main man George Clooney.

Up in the Air (2009)
Director: Jason Reitman
Starring: George Clooney (Ryan Bingham), Vera Farmiga (Alex Goran)
Genre: Comedy | Drama | Romance
Runtime: 109 mins | Country: US | Language: English

Read previous post:
Vicky Cristina Barcelona Review

Much like tasting premium wine, taking a stroll through a botanical garden on a sunny afternoon or savoring a serving...