Monday 1 February 2010

Movie Review: Up In The Air (2009)

Up In The Air is a touching exploration of human relationships and the meaning of caring. Set against the backdrop of a deep recession and the job losses that tear apart the security blanket of families, director Jason Reitman captures both the agony of economic hardship among white collar workers, and the layered complexity of human interaction.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is ruthlessly efficient at the most heartless of jobs: he flies around the country as a consultant hired to professionally terminate the employment of workers at companies in the midst of large-scale downsizing. And in a recession, business is good.

In addition to being brilliant at his job, Bingham loves the time that he spends at airports and on-board airplanes, and dreads being at his bland hotel-like apartment. He has organized his world to enjoy the life of the road warrior, and this includes absolute detachment from any meaningful personal human interaction. His main goal in life is to maximize the collection of frequent flier miles.

Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) is a young graduate who joins Bingham's firm, and is assigned to shadow him on termination trips to gain field experience before implementing a radical on-line remote termination system that would spell the end of Bingham's cherished non-stop travel lifestyle.

Bingham reluctantly but effectively mentors Keener while developing a seemingly casual relationship with Alex (Vera Farmiga), another road warrior and his female mirror image.

Up In The Air draws its strength from contrasting Bingham's apparent lack of human warmth with his insistence on face-to-face meetings with the people that he's about to fire, and his stunning ability to comfort terminated employees at their moment of worst vulnerability. Keener represents the young generation, hopelessly devoted to the technology that adds distance to essential human interaction yet much more vulnerable and open to the pitfalls of emotional investments. Alex is one last emotional risk that Bingham is willing to take, to either confirm or properly question his lifestyle choice.

The three characters are well rounded by screenwriter Reitman and Sheldon Turner, working from Walter Kirn's book. Clooney was born to play Bingham, perfectly mixing icy coldness with searing sensitivity. Kendrick is his perfect foil as the young and idealistic Natalie Keener, all wide eyes, misguided overconfidence and good intentions. Farmiga is perfect as the female version of Bingham, offering him a tantalizing yet dangerous departure from the emotionally blank personal life that he has so carefully cultivated.

Up In The Air is also populated with interesting, multi-dimensional secondary characters revolving around Bingham and dealing with their own relationship issues. Jason Bateman is his boss, Amy Morton is the older sister, Melanie Lynskey is Bingham's younger sister Julie, and Danny McBride is excellent as Julie's husband-to-be.

The film maintains a firm grip on characters and events as it confidently flies towards an appropriate resolution. Up In The Air tenderly captures a slice of life and wraps it with clever deference to the complexity of personal relationships.

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