Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 12/25/09 w/ Additional Edits.
Based on the novel by Walter Kirn, Up in the Air tells the story of a corporate downsizer whose job is to fly around the world to fire people from their jobs while hoping to reach his goal of a large frequent flyer numbers. During his journey, the man accompanies a young woman doing the same but with new technology while he falls for a traveling woman who also shares his philosophies about traveling. Directed by Jason Reitman with an adapted screenplay by Reitman and Sheldon Turner. The film is an exploration of a man's empty life and the world he surrounds himself in during a tumultuous time where the recession is hitting hard in the world. Starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Danny McBride, Melanie Lynskey, Amy Morton, Sam Elliot, Zach Galifianakis, and appearances from J.K. Simmons and Jason Bateman. Up in the Air is a witty yet harrowing drama about isolation and the world that revolves around a single man.
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a man whose job is to fly from city to city where he tells people that they're fired. The reaction to those who are fired is shocking yet Bingham isn't really concerned with people's feelings as he's just there to do a job. Bingham flies millions of miles throughout the year hoping to reach the goal of 10 million frequent flyer miles to be part of a rare, prestigious club. When he's not flying or working, he lives in an apartment that he is rarely at in Omaha. On his spare time, Bingham also gives seminars on how to live a life without attachments where during those travels, he meets with another traveler named Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) where the two share an attraction towards each other.
When Bingham is called back to Omaha by his boss Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman), Bingham learns of a new strategy that could impact his job and lifestyle. A new young employee named Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) has just introduced the idea of firing people through the Internet and on video screen. Upon the realization that Natalie has little experience in interacting face-to-face with the people she's to fire, Gregory decides to have Natalie accompany Bingham so she can have experience. Bingham reluctantly takes her in while showing her the ropes on how to travel and how to do things properly. Natalie becomes unaware of the emotional implications of what to do when firing people as she angers a fired employee (J.K. Simmons) where Bingham would calm the man down.
With Bingham's own personal life having little attachment as he learned his younger sister Julie (Melanie Lynskey) is about to get married. He is asked by his sister Kara (Amy Morton) to take pictures with a cardboard picture of Julie and her fiancee Jim (Danny McBride) in various places. Bingham reluctantly does with help from Natalie and during a stop in Miami, he meets up with Alex again as she shares her own philosophies of life to Natalie as they crash a party. With Natalie still trying to get her footing on how to fire people as well as the way Bingham's life works. She and Bingham are suddenly called back to Omaha as Bingham makes some unexpected moves on his own in choosing to go to his sister's wedding. During this visit where Alex accompanies him, Bingham begins to question his own life along with his growing attraction to Alex.
The film is about a traveling man traveling all across the country doing his own thing without any kinds of attachment to anyone or anything. Yet, he would end up meeting people that would change all of these philosophies that he lives by while pondering about his own lifestyle. The film itself is an existential drama with dabbles of humor. Yet, it all centers around the character of Ryan Bingham. A man who loves his job, loves to fly, loves to live in nice hotels, and have all of the benefits. Yet, he would often be attached to a woman in Alex, who does the same as they're attracted to each other. When he takes Natalie on board as his new protegee, Bingham is suddenly faced with questions from Natalie about his lifestyle and his goals. Bingham avoids them only to realize that Natalie might have a point near the end of the film.
The screenplay that Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner is wonderfully structured from the first act of Bingham's world and the introduction of Natalie where he bring her on his travels. The second being his increased attraction to Alex and guiding Natalie into this cruel world of firing people. All of this would lead to a dramatic third act that would impact not just Bingham's own development and feelings about the world. It would also impact about the people around him where there is a harsh revelation about Alex along with Natalie's own feelings about the world. Along the way in the journey, there's moments where all three characters would learn about themselves and have fun as the lesson in life is there's no life without interaction or attachments.
The script Reitman and Turner creates definitely raises questions about existentialism and the way the world works. Even as it is told at the right place and right time when America as of late 2009 is still going through a horrible recession where people are losing their jobs. The reactions of the people who are fired are told realistically of what they could be going through or what they went through. While to Bingham, it may not affect him very much but to someone as young as Natalie. It's a cruel reminder of the way the world is as her idea to fire people through the computer without human interaction would change her in such a way. Notably in a tragic moment in the third act that would impact not just Natalie but also Bingham in relation to what Natalie is feeling.
The screenplay definitely features some amazing writing in its dialogue and moments of humor. Yet, it's Reitman's direction of the film itself that is truly stunning. From the opening credit sequence of ariel shots of various cities and landscapes to his engaging compositions of everything he's shooting at the airport, hotels, and various cities. It's as if Reitman is taking the audience onto a journey from city to city where as troubled as it is. America is still a beautiful and interesting place from the ariel shots of the cities at night to the airports they're at. Yet, Reitman's direction is filled with close-ups and zooms to emphasize what is happening to the characters. Even as they're facing the emotional upheaval of what they're doing or going through. Even if it's a funny moment where something isn't meant to be funny but can come across as something that is quite hilarious.
The sarcastic humor that Reitman creates works in its sense of rhythm that keeps the film going. The dramatic staging that Reitman does is superb as he knows where to distance himself from he and the actors as they're performing. Yet, some of those dramatic moments and compositions do create moments that are stunning. Notably in the world of Ryan Bingham as he faces the idea of isolation and trying to find some meaning in his life. The result of these intimate moments, light comical moments, and intense, heavy sequences and compositions show that Jason Reitman is becoming a director that will engage the audiences with themes and ideas as he is really just getting started.
Cinematographer Eric Steelberg does brilliant work with the film's photography from darkly-lit but colorful interior nighttime scenes at the bar where Alex and Ryan meets to the bright colors in the interiors of the airports that Ryan frequents in. Even in some shots where things are a little grey in the exterior scenes as Steelberg's work is phenomenal. Editor Dana E. Glauberman is excellent in its rhythmic pacing, straight-cuts and transitions while moving the film quite leisurely for the most part. Even in scenes where it's funny or for dramatic effect.
Production designer Steve Saklad with set decorator Linda Lee Sutton and art director Andrew Max Cahn do great work in the art direction of the film. From the look of the party that Ryan, Alex, and Natalie crash to the hotel rooms, and even Ryan's own apartment home which looks somewhat empty all have something to say in Ryan's life. The costume design of Danny Glicker is really good from the suits that Ryan wears along with the business-woman clothes that Alex and Natalie wears where Alex has a sexier look with Natalie a more uptight look to emphasize their characters. Sound editors Barney Cabral, Perry Robertson, and Scott Sanders do fine work in the film's sound from the way airplanes sound in and out, the intimate sounds of the conferences that Ryan speaks in, and the atmosphere of Natalie talking through people in the computer in their termination as it's done quite superbly.
The music score by Rolfe Kent is lightly playful and subtle to emphasize on Ryan's continuing journey in life and the people he encounters. Yet, the soundtrack compiled by Randall Poster and Rick Clark is wonderful with songs by Sharon King and the Dap-Kings, Graham Nash, Elliot Smith, Charles Atlas, and Crosby, Stills, & Nash in playing up to the journey of Ryan Bingham.
The casting by Mindy Marin is superb with some cameo appearances from Young MC at the party Ryan, Alex, and Natalie crash in along with J.K. Simmons and Zach Galifianakis as terminated employees. Simmons as a hardened, bitter man who plays it quite straight while Galifianakis does a great job in playing up for laughs in his own fantasies about being fired. Sam Elliot also makes a funny cameo appearance as an airline pilot who sits with Ryan. Danny McBride is very good in a very understated yet restrained role as Ryan's soon-to-be brother-in-law while Melanie Lynskey is wonderful as Ryan's younger sister. Amy Morton is fine in a small but memorable role as Ryan's older sister who is not happy about his lifestyle choice while Jason Bateman is great as Ryan's smarmy boss.
Anna Kendrick is superb in a real breakthrough role as Natalie Keener. Already known for a fantastic role in Rocket Science and more recently, in the Twilight film series, Kendrick delivers in being a great foil of sorts for George Clooney while going head-to-head about the way things are. Kendrick is also funny and dramatic as she not only steals a few scenes from Clooney but makes her character to be very memorable and realistic about how young people are trying to figure out the world. Vera Farmiga is excellent as Alex, a sexy woman who likes to travel and do all sorts of fun things with Ryan Bingham. Yet, there's also someone who has seen a lot in life in a character like Alex as she helps not only guide Natalie through the world of adulthood but also help Ryan find a world other than traveling that would later be part of a very dramatic set-up. Farmiga's performance is definitely phenomenal as she definitely can go toe-to-toe with someone as big as George Clooney.
George Clooney, himself, delivers in what is definitely his best dramatic role yet. While Clooney is a movie star who can deliver the goods in a performance. He's also an actor that will provide the right notes in a performance. Maybe not in the style of a method actor like Sean Penn or as grandiose as Daniel Day-Lewis. Yet, Clooney's performance as Ryan Bingham is very realistic in its development of a man in an existential journey where he not only tries to fight in saving a lifestyle that he only knows. He would end going into a realization that living life without attachments aren't really worth living. It's a remarkable performance from Clooney who not only can dominate a scene but is willing to share it with other actors, notably Farmiga and Kendrick. What Clooney creates is a role that is shows his range as an actor while giving it a personality that only Clooney can create.
Up in the Air is an amazing film from Jason Reitman and company with great performances from George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick. Audiences who want to see witty films that is entertaining and smart will definitely enjoy this. Though at times, the tone is bleak, it's a film that really tells a story that is relevant and what is happening while telling stories about the way life works. For fans of Jason Reitman, this film will truly show a massive stepping stone into his career as it is clear that he will become a director to watch in the years to come. In the end, Up in the Air is a remarkable achievement from Jason Reitman while giving its star George Clooney one of his best roles yet.
Jason Reitman Films: Thank You for Smoking - Juno - Young Adult - Labor Day - (Men, Women, & Children) - The Auteurs #30: Jason Reitman
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