Director Jason Reitman, the director of Juno, has given us Up In The Air, a superb character study about the meaning of life. Both heartbreaking and hilarious, this is a culturally relevant and timely film that is not easily forgotten.
George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a man who fires people for a living. He basically executes what the big bosses are too timid to carry out themselves, and he has it down to a science. On the side, he is a motivational speaker who encourages his listeners to get rid of the excess baggage in their lives, in an effort to reach their personal goals and make their dreams a reality. The only problem is that Ryan does not have much of a life to speak of. He lives out of his suitcase, and has distanced himself from his friends and family, and has given himself over to casual relationships instead. His personal goal is to reach ten million frequent flier miles, and he is almost there. On one particular business trip, he meets and becomes close with a fellow frequent flier named Alex. They instantly hit it off, and begin an affair.
Meanwhile, back at the company offices, Ryan meets his new colleague, Natalie Keener. She is young, headstrong, and ultimately determined to work her way up in the business. Ryan feels threatened by the young lady, and insists that she is too naïve to carry out the demands of the job. It is at this moment that the boss suggests that Ryan take Natalie along with him on his travels to show her the ropes. She goes along with Ryan, and sits beside him as he brings in numerous unsuspecting individuals, and informs them that their jobs have been terminated. He asks each individual to see the situation in a positive light. It’s not a termination so much as it is an opportunity to begin again. Ryan is a master of persuasion, and some people step away with a hopeful outlook. Others break down in shock – angry, frustrated, and confused. After a particularly disturbing encounter, Natalie begins to examine her position from an ethical standpoint. Of course, Ryan is there to soften the blow, as he tries to put things into perspective for her, with ambiguous results. Natalie returns to the main office, where she formulates a system that will allow her to fire people via the internet, rather than having to do it face to face.
Alex meets up with Ryan shortly thereafter, and their relationship grows from casual to something a bit more serious. Ryan invites Alex to his sister’s wedding, and she accompanies him. It is during this time that Ryan’s journey really begins. Will he remain an avid frequent flier, living in isolation, bouncing from hotel room to hotel room, or will he grab hold of the life that he has left and find true meaning? This is the existential dilemma that drives the film.
The performances are excellent all around. George Clooney plays Ryan, and totally becomes the character. This is his best performance in years. Vera Farmiga plays his love interest, Alex. She may receive an Oscar nomination for her work here. Anna Kendrick plays Natalie, and she is simply breathtaking. She has come a long way since Twilight.
Jason Reitman proves once again that he is a director to watch. This film is just as strong as Juno, and just as important.
Rated R for language and adult content.