Up in the Air (2009) (R)

Ryan Bingham is a man with no baggage. He travels the United States as a man who is hired out to fire people when executives are too emotional and scared to do it. He has a heartless job, but you know what? He loves it. Not necessarily because of the way he has to treat people, but because of the travel. The slight dizziness that accompanies the motion of an airplane and the way the cramped seats feel—these are the things that he enjoys, he even tells us that they make him feel at home. He is similar to Lester from "American Beauty" in the sense that he is...."a loser". He doesn't know that he's a loser, but his actions and his beliefs lead me to think this way.
Mr. Bingham is excessively organized, he knows how to get through an airport with minimal holdups. He's racist (he advises a colleague to always travel behind Asians) but he sees it as stereotyping...because that sounds nicer to him. He really doesn't care how he comes across to people—this could be a side effect of the job that he has. Imagine traveling every single day to find different people, stare them in the face, and tell them that they are going to be better off elsewhere.
Ryan Bingham is the main man of "Up in the Air", a flawed protagonist is there ever was one. His need to always be up in the air (yes, ironic since that's the title) may be his ways of escape. He thinks that he's running from something, but from what, we are never really sure and I would argue that neither is he.
Enter Alex, a woman who is the female equivalent of Ryan. She is his mirror—naturally, they get along splendidly. They start a quick affair and soon keep each other as a go-to partner for passion. But both Alex and Ryan travel all the time, they have to coordinate their romances in layovers.
Then we see Natalie, a young woman with a large amount of ambition. She is taking Ryan's company to a whole new level. She's introducing a cyber component of the corporation. If you could fire people via the computer (using a similar product to Skype) then what's the point in flying so many people out to fire the people that have already been fired? It would cut down of travel expenses by an exponential amount and it would be more timely for everybody involved. She surmises that most people will be happy for the change, they'll get to spend more time with their families—they'll be at home more.
Yet Ryan's home is in the air, so he's not thrilled about the change. Everyday that he's not traveling he feels like he's imprisoned, that a weight on his shoulders is pulling him down.
For the sake of being important, he's working towards a goal; a goal that he's very reluctant to share with anyone else. This goal, if ever succeeded, would land him in the elite class of people....it doesn't accomplish anything it would just be nice to have—and he wants in.
Natalie needs to see what happens "out in the field" so Ryan takes her along on a road trip of sorts, they fire people and form a bizarre, mentor/pupil relationship.
"Up in the Air" is so timely and current that it's almost a wake-up call watching it. It deals with futures and successes and families and (the film favorite) love.
George Clooney plays Ryan and the role suits him very well. He has a natural smugness that embodies the character so fantastically; but he also is missing something. The way the film shows the naked left hand of Ryan is shockingly biographical of Clooney's own life. Vera Farmiga plays Alex and Anna Kendrick plays Natalie. All three (Clooney, Kendrick, and Farmiga) got recognized at the Oscars. The acting in this film is quite good.
Jason Reitman (of "Juno" fame) directs this film and I realized while watching that I have enjoyed everything I've seen done by this man. He's so quirky and brilliant and all of his films (that I've seen) are remarkably human in idea and execution.
"Up in the Air" is powerful, sneaking up inside and sometimes becoming devastating. Clooney gives one of his best performances and the film itself is shot with restraint and intelligence.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

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