movie film review | chris tookey

Up In The Air

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  Up In The Air Review
Tookey's Rating
10 /10
Average Rating
8.10 /10
Ryan Bingham - George Clooney , Alex Goran - Vera Farmiga
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Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by: Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner , based on the novel by Walter Kirn

Released: 2009
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 109

Super-sophisticated, timely comedy.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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George Clooney (pictured left) revels in the role of his life in this unique and often brilliant mixture of topical drama, romantic comedy and corporate satire.

Ryan Bingham (Clooney at his most charmingly insincere) is an executive whose job is flying round America to do the unpleasant job of “career transition counselling” – in other words, firing people. He shields cowardly bosses from having to tell long-serving employees that they are being “let go”.

Ryan is great at his job. Urbane, professional and seemingly caring, he makes his victims feel that there’s no shame in getting the sack, indeed that it may open up for them a new world of opportunities. He is as generous with vacuous promises as an air-brushed politician.

Three events make him re-evaluate his predatory lifestyle. His younger sister (played by Melanie Lynskey with a delightful, homely innocence) is about to marry – a reminder that he is semi-detached from his family, at best.

He meets another frequent flyer, Alex (Vera Farmiga) who’s as slick, materialistic and keen to avoid “that whole responsibility thing” as he is. They manage a casual coupling whenever their schedules permit. Ryan even finds himself becoming interested in turning their non-relationship into something more permanent.

Thirdly, Ryan’s own employer (Jason Bateman) - a sleazebag who greets the global downturn with a delighted “This is our moment!” - becomes worryingly intent on streamlining his own business. He takes on a thrusting young graduate Natalie (Anna Kendrick, pictured right), who reckons she can do Ryan’s job more efficiently by firing people over the internet.

There is, in fact, a gigantic plot hole here. Since Bateman’s company is used by employers who can’t stomach sacking their own employees in person, why would they hire Bateman’s company to do something they could just as easily do themselves? You might think someone as smart and calculating as Ryan would point this out, but hey, it’s only a movie…

Anyway, this rickety plot mechanism leads to scary little Natalie accompanying Ryan on his final tour, as a kind of trainee Angel of Death.

Against both their expectations, she is to some extent humanised by her experiences, and Ryan discovers within himself some of his previously repressed paternal instincts.

All of this is funny, well observed and beautifully acted. Kendrick excels as the thawing ice-maiden. Clooney has never been subtler, as he takes his character on a giddyingly steep ascent from callous anti-hero to just-about-feasible redemption.

As two people so glossy and well groomed they seem to have stepped out of a corporate infomercial, Farmiga and Clooney have a sexual chemistry unseen since Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo struck sparks off each other in The Thomas Crown Affair.

Clooney is bound to remind older viewers of Cary Grant in his prime, and Farmiga resembles Barbara Stanwyck at her most fascinatingly impenetrable. Together, they’re terrific.

Director and co-writer Jason Reitman, still only 32, has a fine ear for corporate cynicism, as he showed in Thank You For Smoking, and an equally great eye for soulless modern hotels and airport architecture. There are, I think, deliberate echoes of Bertolucci’s The Conformist.

Meanwhile, to increase the fun element, Anna Kendrick’s childlike tactlessness towards her elders has the same cutting edge that was evident in Mr Reitman’s last hit, Juno.

The plot skilfully avoids taking too easy a trajectory. Some unexpected turbulence towards the end delivers a nasty jolt to the audience, just when we think the movie’s heading towards Richard Curtis-style cosiness.

The trailer hints at straightforward romantic comedy, with Clooney caught between two women; but really Up In The Air is an acerbic morality tale, with a big debt to the tougher, darker side of Hollywood comedy, personified by those near-forgotten greats, Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder.

Clooney’s character becomes an iconic figure of the screen – a Gordon Gekko for the 21st century - as he learns belatedly, and painfully, what he has been missing. Refreshingly, too, the women in his life come across as rounded characters, not mere satellites around a dominant alpha male.

Reitman’s movie, co-written with Sheldon Turner, is inspired by a novel written by Walter Kirn in 2001, before the present recession, but could hardly be more timely.

Despite his comparative youth, Reitman understands the pain of unemployment and cleverly includes testimony from ordinary people who have lost their jobs – their reactions range from resignation to rage, panic to misery.

Along with the underlying melancholy of recessionary times, Up In The Air captures superbly the airlessness of lives lived in the impersonal luxury of hotels and executive lounges

In essence, the film has something pretty simple to say, which is that careers aren’t everything, or even the most important thing, in life. But just because a message is simple doesn’t meant that it’s false, or shouldn’t be stated. Few movies have come out more persuasively in favour of family values.

Hollywood hasn’t come up with many mature, intelligent films recently, so Up In The Air is bound to figure prominently at the Academy Awards. It could easily win best picture.

This is a film that is much more than the glib comedy that it initially appears. It captures something important and disturbing about our times.

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