Sunday, December 6, 2009







Run Time: 109 min.


Here is a fine example of movie-making: no dazzling special effects, no breath-taking locales and yet... you have a contender for the Picture of the Year. Director Jason Reitman presents a well-timed study of a corporate downsizer and consummate frequent traveler, finely portrayed by George Clooney in top form.

Ryan Bingham loves to fly and has a rather disagreeable job: he fires people on behalf of corporations that are downsizing. He is a decent, charming and sharp man who has embraced whole-heartedly a world of material perks. He carries with him his badges of honor: elite frequent flyer cards, exclusive frequent guest cards with hotels, special privilege cards with car rentals and so on. He has spent 322 days in the last year traveling and 43 “miserable” days at home in Omaha, Nebraska. His only goal in life is to be the seventh person in the world to log 10 million frequent flyer miles. While being pampered by every travel loyalty program on the road, he has nothing real to hold on to. In fact, his empty one-bedroom apartment is quite symbolic of his personal life: clean, cold and bare.

We meet up with Ryan (George Clooney) when he is encountering 3 significant changes in his life. His boss (Jason Bateman) has hired a young upstart protégé Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) who wants to improve efficiency via teleconferencing and threatens to permanently ground Ryan and his counterparts. Ryan has met a simpatico traveler, Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) who seems to offer a meaningful connection to Ryan, one that he has never experienced before. Finally, Ryan’s sister is getting married and wants him to attend the wedding in northern Wisconsin with the siblings that he barely knows.

At his boss’s insistence, Ryan begins a road-trip with Natalie to show her why his job is a little more personal than a scripted workflow for firing employees, oops, letting them go. Along the way, Alex intersects itineraries with Ryan to spend time together. We follow Ryan as he reluctantly acknowledges the loneliness and emptiness of his life while Natalie discovers that there is a lot more to business transactions than she knows from her education. All the places in the film are familiar. Most of these are office buildings and hotels. There is no effort made to hide the hotel locations. For example, the signs for the Columbus Hampton Inn is clearly visible. These are places we have been to and we cannot help but relate to the events.

Clooney is nothing short of excellent as he embodies his character and manages to be funny, confident yet vulnerable and deserving of sympathy. The two female characters are presented as a brilliant study in contrast. Vera Farmiga displays excellent chemistry with Clooney as she presents a very assertive yet smooth business woman who has learned a lot from her experiences and is comfortable with her recalibrated expectations. Anna Kendrick as Natalie is a revelation. She presents Natalie as a bright, naive young manager who has a lot to learn but has an undeniably bright future. Reitman avoids the trap of making this character a stereotype and allows her to hold her own against the other two, more formidable leads.

This cannot be pegged as a comedy even though it has many funny moments. Reitman has captured the sad bitter truth about layoffs and the timing of this release could not be more appropriate. It is important to note that with a couple of exceptions of known actors, every person being fired in the film is someone recently laid off in real life. The excerpts in the film are a portion of hours of footage acquired by film-makers by getting reactions to job losses by real people. Some of these are heart-wrenching.

Having attended some networking group meetings with people looking for jobs, the phrase “up in the air” strikes a chord. In corporate-speak, a job-seeker is referred to as “having landed” when they find a job. In perspective, I suppose anyone looking for a job is still up in the air. If you stay through the credits, it is revealed that the title song is written by a recent job-seeker and offered to Reitman for use in his film. Reitman has become one of my favorite directors with this follow-up to Juno and Thank You for Smoking.

This is an masterful character study of a familiar corporate executive who is easy to relate to primarily because he doesn’t belong to any one place. When asked, more than 30,000 feet off the ground, where he is from, Ryan’s response is insightful: “I’m from here.”

Download this: “This land is your land” by Sharon Jones; “Up in the Air” by Kevin Renick