It’s not often that a movie comes along and perfectly captures the era that it’s depicting. Sure, painstaking attention can be paid to period garb and every effort can be made to play just the right song at just the right moment, but there’s more to it then that. Something that elevates their status from mere time capsule to time machine. That’s the reason why people love the film’s of the late John Hughes so much. Each and every one of his films is a compact burst of nostalgia, memories captured in celluloid. Each film both timeless and yet closely linked to a very specific time. A chance to look back fondly and smile.
Well, the bad news is that no one is likely to get too sentimental for the world shown in Jason Reitman’s incredible “Up in the Air.” The even worse news is that we’re all living in it. Set in present day America amid the backdrop of a fallen economy, where unemployment and uncertainty are the rules of the game, “Up in the Air” showcases it all through the eyes of a man who was built for just such a situation.
George Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham, a career transition associate— which is really just a nice way of saying that he fires people so that their bosses won’t have to get their hands dirty. Bingham flies across the country like a modern day Johnny Appleseed, but instead of apple trees, he leaves unemployment in his wake. Transition isn’t just a job for Bingham, it’s a way of life. He spends nearly the entire year flying from airport to airport, going from hotel to hotel and dreading the few days he will be forced to stay at home like a kid dreads September, missing the freedom that comes with his completely unhitched lifestyle. On the side, he moonlights as a motivation speaker of sorts, spreading his gospel of freedom to all who will listen.
As per the usual, Clooney brings it. He’s absolutely inspired as the charmingly gilded Bingham, who talks a good game but deep down knows that he’s missing out on something. Clooney is a rare breed of actor, someone who can take a bad movie and actually win an Academy Award for it, as he did with 2005’s “Syriana.” With “Up in the Air,” Clooney is not asked to do any such thing. He’s put in a fantastic situation and he runs with it. He brings just the right amounts of charisma and vulnerability to the part, juggling both with an incredible amount of skill. With a new awards season just around the corner, it’s not hard to see more gold in his future.
Everything moves along smoothly for Bingham until his blissful lone wolf existence is threatened by a pair of women. The first, Natalie Keener— played brilliantly by Anna Kendrick— is a delightfully spunky co-worker dead set on revolutionizing the business of firing people, making it more cost-effective and in doing so ground Bingham’s high flying lifestyle for good. Before she can do this, however, she needs to learn the ins and outs of the job and that means hitting the road— or in this case the sky— with an old pro like Bingham. The two soon fall into an accidental father-daughter relationship that carries that film during the middle act.
The other woman is Alex Goran, who is essentially Bingham’s doppelganger in female form. Vera Farmiga does a surprisingly fantastic job as Goran, who appears to be as unattached as Bingham is, possibly even more so but with a bit of a twist. The two cut in and out of each other’s lives, crossing paths only when their jet set lives allow it and always doing so while in transit.
“Up in the Air” is very much a film about relationships. Not just in the person to person sense, but also in the way that people relate to the world around them and the way in which they see themselves. It is also a fascinating look at change and how it can be both a good thing and a bad thing, terrifying and exhilarating, something that— no matter how hard you try— you can’t avoid forever.
So earlier you were hit with all the bad news, about an economy doing its best impression of the Titanic and a country left wondering when the Carpathia will arrive. After all that nonsense, you deserve a bit of good news, so here it is: “Up in the Air” is a fantastic film. It will tug on your heart strings and put a smile on your face at the same time. Writer/director Jason Reitman has crafted a modern classic with Clooney giving one of the finest performances of his career and stellar performances from the supporting cast. “Up in the Air” is easily one of the year’s best films.