Archive for January 20th, 2010

Review: Up in the Air

When he first made the leap from TV to movies I wasn’t sure about George Clooney, Out of Sight was the first great film I saw him in and more importantly he was really good in it. Around twelve years on he is the only actor working in Hollywood that I can honestly say is a movie star in the vein of Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart. Sure there are better actors, their may be more bankable stars but there are few who can so comfortably put a foot in each camp. With Good Night and Good Luck he already has a brilliant film under his belt as a director too, his debut Confessions of a Dangerous Mind wasn’t bad either. To add to the star power Mr Clooney brings to the party Up in the Air has a director in the ascendancy. Jason Reitman is already well out of his father Ivan (Ghost Busters) Reitman’s shadow. While Reitman Jr’s last movie Juno (2007) go a lot of well deserved praise Thank You for Smoking (2005) was almost as good if less well known. It also makes an interesting companion piece for Up in the Air as both films are about men forced to reassess their lifestyle choices.

Ryan Bingham (Clooney) is corporate downsizer or ‘career transition counsellor’, basically, he works for a company that hires him out to other companies, his job to inform people of the redundancy. In his own words “I work for a company that lends me out to cowards who don’t have courage to sack their own employees” A by-product of his job is that he spends his life on the road, 322 days and 350,000 air miles last year to be precise. Living in hotels and earning reward points and frequent flier miles are like a drug to him, he has no goal or intended use for the rewards other than earning them and making his life on the road easier. His existence is cold, clinical and should be lonely despite this he appears to be happy and doesn’t see the benefit of relationships. His philosophy is conveyed to the viewer not just thought he actions and dialogue of the movie but through a voiceover that is presented as Bingham’s thoughts. He is forced to re-evaluate his position when two women come into his life. Alex (Vera Farmiga) is virtually a female equivalent of him, in an early, sort of setting the ground rules for the relationship conversation she bluntly declares “Just think of me as you; but with a vagina.”. The other Natalie (Anna Kendrick) is a new wiz kid he is forced to take on the road to teach her the ropes as she implements a new system of doing their job that threatens to ground Bingham. It is not his job, but his way of life that is under threat.

There is a point in the film where Ryan’s boss (Jason Bateman) talks about the current economic situation with glee “this is our time”. The same could be said of the movie, based on a novel by Walter Kirn that came out in early 2001 in a far more optimistic time. In light of the current world financial situation the film is very relevant, given the time it takes to make a film that is probably more luck than judgement. This doesn’t stop the film having a certain resonance, I’m sure most of us know someone who has been affected by the recent economy. All this makes the movie sound really glum and depressing. Directed and acted with supreme confidence and skill the film is light and funny provoking some real laugh out loud moments.

It does however lose its way towards the end. As the plot unfolds there are few minor revelations but the film finds itself in something of a proverbial dark alley. Not sure if it should backtrack to a safer place or carry on to see if there is a way through the movie stops dead. It isn’t the worst way the film could have ended but it is far from the best. During the time when the film is losing its way we don’t get the reassuring voice explaining Bingham’s thoughts, it is because of this the final monologue feels like something of an afterthought.

A really good film but not a truly great one. It is well deserving of the Oscar nomination it will probably get but there are better films that I would rather see walk away the statuette for picture and direction. The first rate acting by all three leads should also be recognised. If this is the best movie I see all year I will be a tad disappointed but in a cinema season that has been dominated by twelve foot 3D Smurf’s it was a joy to get back to a real honest old fashioned movie.

Four Stars out of Five.

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