Thursday, July 7, 2011

Up In The Air (2009)

"The slower we move the faster we die.
Make no mistake, moving is living."

- Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is passionate about his job. Ryan works as a corporate downsizer, which basically entails flying around the country firing employees because their big wigged fat cat bosses do not have the testicular fortitude to do the firing themselves.

Ryan likes his lifestyle - a lot. Spending 322 days a year flying around the country for work while spending only "43 miserable days at home," Ryan makes strides towards his biggest lifelong goal of collecting ten million flier miles and attaining the airline's lifetime executive status. His "What's in your backpack?" philosophy feeds his lust for a lonely existence ("make no mistake, your relationships are the heaviest components in your life"). With no substantial relationships and priding himself on that fact, Ryan is living his personal dream; that is.... until two women come into his life.

First, there is Alex (Vera Farmiga). With both working in professions that take them all over the country for much of the year, Alex and Ryan hook up as often as they can in hotels all over the nation. Initially, the relationship is all fun and games but Alex's beauty and playfulness forces Ryan to second guess his love of bachelorhood and wonder if his "What's in your backpack?" lifestyle really means anything.

The second of these women are Natalie (Anna Kendrick) who Ryan unhappily takes on as a new partner for work. Natalie poses a real threat to Ryan's beloved lifestyle with her new ideas about the firing profession. Her novel idea of firing employees around the country by computer instead of through a face-to-face conversation that requires travel will save the company an unbelievable amount of money but will take Ryan out of the air. In an attempt to show her the error of her ways, Ryan takes Natalie around the country with him on his firing tour but both get more than they bargained for on this trip. Over the next few months, Ryan exposes Natalie's youthful ignorance and Natalie's own outlook on life challenges Ryan's own isolationist perspective.

The multi-Oscar nominated 2009 film Up In The Air tells a timely tale of unemployment through the careful character study of Ryan and Natalie. The film's writer/director Jason Reitman seems to offer up better and better films as his career goes on: Thank You For Smoking in 2005 to Juno in 2007 - and then Up In The Air in 2009, which is my pick for his best film yet. Reitman gives the film a fresh contemporary look and feel and serves up a poignant and witty script but the featured acting is also particularly note-worthy.

With a cast like this the film's featured acting is, of course, nothing short of phenomenal. George Clooney, giving what is clearly one of his finest performances ever as Ryan Bingham; Vera Farmiga, managing to top her memorable performance in The Departed (2006) as Alex in this film; and relative newcomer Anna Kendrick, often stealing the show right out from under the rest of the talented cast as Natalie; all were nominated for Oscars for their performances.

A handful of lackluster aspects pop up from time to time throughout the film - including a rather dull time with Ryan's family and a speech reminiscent of Clooney's "love is good" monologue in Intolerable Cruelty (2003) - but the slick look, timely themes, and great acting make Up In The Air a highly recommendable film.

CBC Rating: 8/10

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