Up in the Air

Straighten Up and Fly Right


23 December 2009| No Comments on Up in the Air     by Sean Chavel


Spiffy, contemporary, and surprisingly entertaining for the grown-up crowd. With trademark charm and panache, George Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham, a company man downsizing specialist that corporations hire to conduct clean, preventive-retaliation layoffs in Up in the Air. Ryan is pleased to spend most of his life up in the air remarking that he is in reach to claim ten million lifetime flyer miles. In another observation of himself, he only spent 43 days home in Omaha in the past year. He meets Alex (Vera Farmiga, a real cougar), another on-the-move professional, and alas, a transcontinental romance begins.

Changes are suddenly made at the termination company when a fresh hot-shot efficiency expert named Natalie (Anna Kendrick) convinces boss Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman) to use computer interfaces to fire people in order to rid airfare and hotel costs. This would eliminate the need to fly Ryan and other employees to company on-site locations. Ryan debates a multitude of reasons why human interface is needed in the hatchet business. His next tour of duty could be his last, and he is asked to take Natalie under his wing to train and orientate her to the business. Forget coaching, perhaps Ryan can convince Natalie that all her proposed ideas are miscalculated.

In a way, the audience already knows this is a bad idea too. But what makes it dramatically believable is that Ryan knows it is “ridiculous,” perhaps aware that Craig and the rest of management are suffering from an over-inflated hubris that has impaired their better judgment. It is perceptible to the viewer in how his characters are capable of making good and bad decisions within the corporate bubble. If there is a bad decision in the script it is when Ryan walks-out on his own motivational speaker presentation after he has had a change of heart – why can’t somebody create a scene where a character reluctantly swallows their duty and finishes a speech they don’t want to present?

Let’s find an example now of why Clooney is a superb actor. One key moment can be found halfway into the film, set in the Miami section. On the road, Natalie gets devastating news via text message, and Ryan, observing that she is looking for consolation, offers to her dryly “It feels like getting fired by a computer, doesn’t it?” Clooney’s delivery is not kind. He is rubbing it in.

Jason Reitman (“Thank You for Smoking,” “Juno”) is becoming our go-to guy for smart, devious and topical comedies (Judd Apatow is just devious, smutty and slumming). He makes the movie crisp and snappy, and he has a gift for shooting skylines. “Up in the Air” takes us all over the map, both literally and thematically, in the best varietal sense possible. Another plus: his editing and cutting style is never jarring, just snappy.

109 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “Lost in Translation” (2003); “Thank You for Smoking” (2005); “Juno” (2007); “Michael Clayton” (2007).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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