As noted in my “quickie” reviews of “The Road” yesterday, and of “Sus” earlier today, I watch lots of movies (old and new) weekly, mostly at home, on cable TV, Netflix and Amazon primarily, usually as I’m working on S&A, but I rarely write about what I screen, if only because I don’t have the time. But I’ll make a concerted effort to do so from now on, and publish here. Consider them quickies, continuing with 2009’s “Up in the Air,” starring George Clooney.
The Jason Reitman-directed “Up In The Air” (an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Walter Kim) actually engaged me from start to finish, and dare I say, moved me. There… I said it. I really had no expectations of it, going into my viewing of the film.
In fact, it actually inspired me enough to say that I might actually now, for the very first time, rent Reitman’s first film, “Juno,” and watch the damn thing, after avoiding altogether (from all I’d read, seen and heard about it, its seeming quirky Sundance-y “whiteness,” we could say, kept me away).
There’s a melancholy that’s prevalent throughout the film that stars George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a corporate-downsizer (or “career transition counselor,” as they are called) at an Omaha, Nebraska-based company, whose job is to fly around the country firing people; essentially, if you’re a company head, and you’d rather not put yourself in the potentially dangerous position of having to tell one of your employees that their services are no longer needed, you’d hire Bingham’s firm, and they’d ship off one of their well-trained, and well-traveled reps to do the job for you. That’s where Bingham (Clooney) steps in, with his charm, and zen philosophies.
More often than not, each firing session ends with the downsized employee walking out of the room in a meditative state, instead of threatening to inflict harm on others, or on themselves, as one woman actually does.
Clooney is very good at playing THIS guy; you know him. He’s George Clooney, and he seems to play a variation of THIS guy in almost every role I’ve seen him in. But, he’s good at it, and it works, so unless he really feels like challenging himself, a la Daniel Day Lewis or Christian Bale, both known for completely immersing themselves, physically and mentally, in roles they play, I think Clooney could likely exploit THIS guy on screen for some time – especially if he’s in good movies with smart directors, as he has done just that mostly, with the likes of Steven Soderbergh, the Cohen brothers, Tony Gilroy, Wes Anderson, and now Jason Reitman, to name a few.
It’s either he’s playing some version of himself, or he’s just a damn good actor… or maybe both.
Ryan Bingham is essentially Michael Clayton (the character Clooney played in the 2007 Tony Gilroy film), except with more smiles. Both are hired guns, and the best at what they do for the companies they work for; one’s a fixer for a law firm (Michael Clayton), and the other is a fixer for a human resources consulting company. Both are single by choice, and happily so – although maybe deceptively, as there’s something clearly missing in each of them that inspires the air of melancholy around them, and thus the film, as I stated above.
In Ryan Bingham’s case, he’s convinced himself that he’s freer and happier as a single man, intentionally steering clear of any and all close relationships, whether familial, platonic, or romantic. His is a lonely, luggage-free life, as he’d likely describe it – essentially comparing loved ones to baggage – and he seems content with that life, choosing a job that ensures he never stays in one place for too long. He has created a world for himself that’s nothing but airline miles, rental cars, compact luggage, hotel suites, where PDAs rule and e-mail and voice mail are the dominant forms of communication. When he’s “up in the air” he’s most at home.
But all that starts to change when he meets his match in Alex Goran (played quite wonderfully by Vera Farmiga, who rarely gets this kind of opportunity to shine). Alex is Ryan with a vagina, as she once describes herself in the film. They meet in a hotel lounge and the connection is instantaneous, leading to a night together that would gradually evolve into something a little more. But thankfully, not quite, which makes things all the more interesting. But to reveal any more would be to spoil the movie for you. So I won’t.
Suffice it to say that Alex isn’t as “typical” as one might expect, and I really appreciated the choices Reitman made for her character, and thus the end of the film. It’s nice to see a female character share screen time with Clooney who is very much his equal, and maybe even more-so, as the previously cool, charismatic bachelor Bingham slowly starts to unravel, and what’s behind the veneer, exposed.
Supporting roles by Jason Bateman (who plays Bingham’s boss) and Anna Kendrick (his young, ambitious, yet naive apprentice), compliment the film well, and are nice distractions from the core narrative that is Bingham’s discovery of himself, and what he needs, versus what he wants, if only he’d be completely honest with himself.
It’s entertaining and smart filmmaking; profound without being preachy; sweet but not mawkish; it asks questions, but doesn’t really provide any answers, which I appreciate. Yet, I found it ultimately satisfying! And quite possibly, your enjoyment of the film might depend on just how comfortable and adjusted you are with the life you’ve created for yourself.
There’s much more I could say about the film, but, I’m trying to keep these “Reviews From the Home Video Basket” as brief as possible, and in this case, not clue you in to too much about the film, for fear of ruining the experience for you.