I've been touting Up in the Air as the year's best film since I saw it in Toronto in September -- and I still haven't seen anything that has changed my mind.
With this deft, witty, smart and soulful film, writer-director Jason Reitman establishes himself as one of the most sure-handed purveyors of a certain kind of comedy, a tradition that marks him as a modern purveyor of the same cinematic tradition as Frank Capra and Preston Sturges.
Up in the Air is Reitman's third feature (following 2005's Thank You for Smoking and 2007's Juno) and his most fully realized to date. His reworking of Walter Kirn's very different novel captures the sensibility that Kirn plugged into -- the subculture of the constant traveler, in pursuit of frequent-flyer miles, upgrades, perks that accrue to the loyal and regular customer.
Given the lead time on putting together a studio movie in Hollywood -- and putting one together around George Clooney's busy schedule -- it is mere chance that this film arrives in the wake of a massive economic downturn that still has people shivering under very thin 401Ks -- if they have jobs at all. But Reitman has written the perfect character for these times: a courtly and affable grim reaper named Ryan Bingham, embodied by the immaculate Clooney in what could easily be an Oscar-winning performance.
Bingham works for a consulting group in Omaha, which hires itself to companies that need to lay off groups of employees in one time-managed swoop. So Ryan Bingham becomes the face of downsizing, the one who explains the situation, thanks them for their work and wishes them well on their future endeavors. And no one at the company that's actually taking a reduction in force has to actually get his or her hands dirty.
It's a brutal process, yet Ryan has it down to an art. He is the voice of reason, the cool fresh-pair-of-eyes who can help you look at the very uncertain future with, perhaps, a bit more optimism. He has learned to give the process the kind of dignity it deserves, to try to keep emotions in check or at least moving in a less negative direction.
He seems to spend weeks on the road at a time, returning home to main office and a bare-bones apartment to change up his stuff. He is really most at home in the airport, on the airplane, in the Admiral's Lounge, at a hotel, in a rented car -- on the road, in other words.
He slips away from his executioner's life on occasion to deliver motivational speeches, which are titled, "What's in your backpack?" The intention is to get people to throw away a lot of the baggage they carry around that's slowing them down in their life and career -- but it might as well be a primer about what's important to Ryan Bingham, which is to be left alone and to travel without distraction or interruption.Continued...
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