Up in the Air

Winged Migration to Award Season


Starring: George Clooney, Anna Kendrick

By Robert Patrick

Director Jason Reitman likes his protagonists to be complicated and confident. The world has marred their morals and engineered their tongues to contain wit and charm. “Juno” and “Thank You for Smoking” contain main characters that make you want to coddle them for their complexity, their imperfections, their venomous quips.

Reitman’s newest film, “Up in the Air”, is not atypical of the aforementioned traits. Our lead character, Ryan Bingham, is an invisible man: he travels across the United States, with no emotional ties to anyone, and terminates employees on behalf of penny pinching companies. Bingham is an assassin for hire, with a pamphlet full of inspirational mottos for newly fired workers instead of a silenced pistol or a sniper rifle. There is an art to his cold, unaffected way of living. Because Bingham enjoys traveling, time to himself, and the independence of working in the field, he disassociates with the need to lead a life of social connectivity. Is he a bad person? No. Is he the Reitman archetype of a maladjusted hero? Yes.

And though Bingham’s lifestyle revolves around the whirling of suitcase zippers in airports, the swishing of keys being placed through security checkpoints, and the rifling of personal belongings by strangers before the boarding of an airplane, he basically enjoys this day-to-day life full of faux meaning – but secretly, of course, he longs for more.

Clooney is a shoe-in for his role as Ryan Bingham. The screenplay calls for a dapper gentleman, who flares out his suit jacket to reveal a cavalcade of business and credit cards, to speak in smooth and equally daunting ways, and to pick up women. Clooney is rife with swagger, wry smiles, and the classic leading man looks – in short, he works here.

When Bingham isn’t burying people’s futures, he sits, adroit and confidently, in hotel bars waiting for prey. Bingham is a ladies man, who clacks around ice in cocktail glasses and never spits when he speaks. The perpetually indelible act is put to a test when he meets his female equivalent in Alex Goran (Vera Formiga), a woman whose fly-by-night nature and braggadocios personality puts Bingham in the ultimate match of wits. The ethos of this relationship is greatly nourished by fine writing and fantastic acting by all those in involved with “Up in the Air”.

Not to be outdone, another woman, who dares to change Bingham’s job altogether, enters the scene unexpectedly. Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a Yale graduate whose cost efficient efforts involve transportation cutbacks for Bingham’s position, is hired to spearhead online layoffs. Bingham’s way of life is about to change. He is obviously upset. Before the internet expedited firings are employed, Bingham and Keener fly across the United States for one last go.

The dialogue in “Up in the Air” is an exercise in emotional veracity and Howard Hawks-like wit. Walter Kirn, who wrote the novel, gets a fine adaptation from writers Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner. The screenplay is so acutely humorous, painfully relevant, and gorgeously truthful that it should be at the vanguard of Academy voting during Oscar time.

Reitman knows how to film a picture full of emotional resonance and warm dialogue exchanges. We know that Bingham may seem like a megalomaniac whose head is, quite literally, in the clouds, but we also accept that there is a hidden generosity in him – a place where change wants to occur.

The acting in the film, from Clooney embodying the impenetrable social maladies of Bingham to Kendrick’s affable and wistful naiveté of Keener, do not pluck one single false note during the 109 minute running time. Everything from the whimsy of the opening scene – the best cut title sequence of the year – to the mercurial ending are handled with supreme craftsmanship by Reitman, who deserves a best director bid for his inspired work.

“Up in the Air” is certainly one of the best pictures released this year. When the opinionated, grossly egocentric “Best Of” lists start rolling off the presses you’ll see Reitman’s fantastic picture bulleted near the top – I’m sure of it. Not many movies get honors in acting, screenplay, and directing throughout the year, but you can peg me as a soothsayer if this wins big.

With the economy in such a disturbing dystopia, Reitman’s caustic and often humorous exploration of the human psyche is much needed . There is absolutely no aversion to addressing the pitfalls of society in “Up in the Air”, and for that Reitman and company deserve to be thanked for their thoughtful, resilient, and effortlessly sincere picture.


Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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