It’s hot, I’ve been eating and drinking too much for too many days in succession, and I’m in lazy holiday mode. I don’t feel like banging out a review, but I just can’t let this movie pass without comment, so here goes. Last review for the year, short and sweet.
Up In The Air opens with a series of aerial shots of US cities that, in hindsight, sums up the perspective of the lead character, Ryan Bingham (George Clooney). Bingham is a high flyer, literally and figuratively. A corporate downsizing specialist enjoying boom times courtesy of the GFC, he spends most of his year in transit, flying all over the States to expertly perform the task bosses shirk from – firing staff. A doity job, but someone’s gotta do it, and there’s no one better at it than Bingham.
The upside of his job (to resort to corporate vernacular) is that he is well remunerated for his expertise, virtually resides in lux hotels, has no-ties affairs with glamorous women he meets on the plush hotel circuit, flies business class, and is close to joining a small elite group who have notched up 10 million frequent flyer miles. The airline rewards such outstanding custom with a special card, a personal acknowledgment from the flight captain when the magic miles tick over, and an inscription of the client’s name on one of their planes.
Attaining membership of the 10 million miles club is Bingham’s primary goal in life. Dumb, shallow shit, right? Well, yes, but Bingham is not shallow or stupid. Rather, he is removed from the everyday world, beyond the concerns of ordinary people, and beyond cynical. His view is that nothing has intrinsic meaning; meaning is subjective, assigned by the individual. He has long ago decided that marriage, kids and a family home are not his raison d’être. Why not 10 million miles and his name on a plane, then? At least there is exclusivity in that.
The downside? Well, nothing as far as Bingham is concerned. As a corporate rolling stone, he is distanced from emotional complication, and for a clutter and commitment-phobe like him, that’s as good as it gets. Then two women enter his neatly packaged life and things begin to unravel.
The first direct threat comes from new kid on the company block, Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a Gen Y whiz kid straight out of grad school who proposes that expenses can be slashed by firing staff via video linkup rather than in person. Bingham’s high-flying lifestyle looks like coming to an end! Appalled at the idea of being grounded, he seeks to convince his boss that Natalie’s proposal cannot work in practice by taking her on the road for some on-the-job demonstrations of his firing expertise.
Then his casual when-our-schedules-coincide affair with the like-minded and delectable fellow jet-about business professional Alex (Vera Farmiga) begins to develop into something more, and his world hits severe turbulence.
If this is starting to shape up as dangerously Hollywood – and I have to admit to some grave concerns along those lines as the movie headed towards the denouement – be assured that it swerves deftly away from formulaic predictability right when it needs to.
Brilliantly written and directed by Jason Reitman (a spec adaptation of Walter Kim’s novel having been provided by co-writer Sheldon Turner), with terrific performances from Clooney (nobody could have played Bingham better), Farmiga and Kendrick, Up In The Air is an intelligent, witty and hugely entertaining look at contemporary values, at generational differences, at the impact of the artificial environment of the technical age and the corporate mindset on our humanity.
The final image of the film is a stunning symbol of isolation, verbalized by Clooney, that recalls Gatsby’s green light across the bay…and is just as poignant. Praise doesn’t come any higher than that from me.
In an extraordinary year for movies, this is up there with the best. Don’t miss.
For other Boomtown Rap movie reviews, see Movie Review Archives