UP IN THE AIR
**** (out of 5)
December 18, 2009
George Clooney as RYAN BINGHAM
Vera Farmiga as ALEX GORAN
Anna Kendrick as NATATLIE KEENER
Jason Bateman as CRAIG GREGORY
Amy Morton as KARA BINGHAM
Melanie Lynskey as JULIE BINGHAM
Danny McBride as JIM MILLER
Directed by: Jason Reitman
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
By the time most of American sees “Up In the Air,” they will have their expectations raised quite a bit. After some spectacular word of mouth, glowing reviews, significant limited-release box office and a nice collection of nominations and awards even before the film goes into wide release, it might just be hard to live up to the hype.
I do caution the average moviegoer to not get caught up in the hype because while “Up in the Air” is a solid, well made film, it’s not exactly the best movie of the year. But it still rates pretty high in my book.
The movie follows Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a consultant who is hired by companies to lay off their employees during rough times. Because the economy is in a downturn, Bingham’s business is booming. He’s flown around the country to trim workforces, and this is a life he enjoys. He’s racking up the frequent flier miles to record levels and is only depressed on the 30 or so days each year that he finds himself back home.
When Bingham’s company starts making plans to do the layoffs via internet chat, he brings the architect of this plan along with him on a trip to show her that it takes finesse and a more personal approach. Along the way, Bingham starts to question his goals and aspirations, wondering if it would do him good to have a more stable relationship.
For as cynical as Jason Reitman’s movies tend to be, there is a certain warmth and charm in them. Casting George Clooney as your lead actor adds to this charm, and like Aaron Eckhart in “Thank You For Smoking,” Clooney manages to make this unlikable character thoroughly likeable.
However, for as excellent of a job as Clooney does, bigger props have to go to Anna Kendrick as the young upstart pseudo protege that Bingham takes on his last trip. Kendrick is best known as Bella’s ditzy friend in the “Twilight” movies, and while she’s good in those roles, she’s not given much to work with. Kendrick not only goes toe-to-toe with Clooney as an actor, she at times steals the scene from him, and that’s not easy to do.
Like any great film, there are some excellent smaller roles. Most of these we see in montages during which Ryan Bingham is laying people off. Folks like J.K. Simmons and Zach Galifianakis really capture the bewilderment and raw emotion of being put in a position like this. Still, the backhanded positive message that Ryan Bingham delivers – that now is the time to make your own future – is strangely true.
There are a lot of issues buried throughout this film – from a look at our sagging economy to the questionable mirage of corporate loyalty – and that will give you plenty to talk about with your friends around the water cooler after seeing the movie. But at its heart, “Up in the Air” is the story of one man’s journey to discover that what he always thought he wanted isn’t what he really wants.
I would hardly characterize “Up in the Air” as a feel-good movie. It deals with far too many ugly subjects like infidelity, layoffs, lost chances and betrayal. But there’s something feel-goody about it. Maybe it has to do with a satisfaction that characters you like with which you spend 109 minutes grow and become better people. Maybe its because no matter where you are from a financial level, you can find something to relate to in this movie.
No matter what the reason is, “Up in the Air” is quite possibly the sweetest movie you’re going to see about corporate layoffs.