Review: Up in the Air

Up in the Air | Jason Reitman, 2009

From the last few years, I can’t remember a movie that truly represents what is currently going on in the world. Hollywood is good at capturing what society was like in the past, but it seems that it is harder to find a script that does so for the future. That’s a shame because there have to be movies made today that future generations would look back upon and say that they really learned something about what went on in the world from something else that textbooks or news archives. Thankfully, Up in the Air does capture today’s zeigeist, and it is an entertaining and well-made movie to boot.

Up in the Air follows Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a man who works for a company that sends him all around the country to fire people. What he does is offer them kind words to make their recent unemployment be as painless as it can be, and he is really good at his job. On the side he gives inspirational speeches about how it is better to not have any commitments with family or friends and just keep moving through life. One day he meets Alex (Vera Farmiga), a business woman who seems to be the female version of him (“just think of me as you with a vagina”). And he sort of falls for her. At the same time, his way of life is threatened by the arrival of Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a young ingenue that has come up with a cheaper way to fire people: via internet. Ryan doesn’t like that, and proves that she is not capable of firing people, so his boss assigns him to train her in the art of firing people. As they travel across the country, they will learn that their philosophies on life are not as good as they thought.

The reason why this movie succeeds is because of the script and the direction. The script does a way of capturing the way the country is in today’s economy with the sharp and somewhat realistic dialogue during the firings, the way the characters feel after a day of work, and the way the scenes are set up to show what the characters are going through. The direction is not very flashy, but the story does not demand that. Reitman does a good job of capturing the overall mood of the country and the characters.

Of course, all the work from the director would have been useless had the actors not given good performances. George Clooney is not the most gifted actor out there, but the character of Ryan Bingham gave him the chance to use his abilities to the max, therefore he gives a believable and charming performance that is certainly worthy of all the praise that he has gotten. His female co-stars also give excellent performances. At first Anna Kendrick seemed to be wooden, but that is the way her character is supposed to be, a young person who thinks she is better than just about everyone else. But as the character evolves and becomes looser, Kendrick does as well. Farmiga gives my favorite performance of the film though. Her character, as I said, is the female version of Clooney’s character, and she is just so much fun. But there is also something mysterious about her, which is shown by her performance. And when her secret is revealed it is actually shocking, that is because her performance, along with the script, did such a great job of hiding things.

Up in the Air was at one time the front runner to win the Best Picture Oscar. However, it peaked too early as it was a victim of its own hype. However, it would have been a worthy winner, and I hope that time is kind to this, as it could be one of those time capsule movies that people look back to to learn about our time.

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