CAPSULE: George Clooney who has had a fairly successful 2009 killing chickens and staring goats to death rounds out the year as another suave character who flies around the country passing the bad news to people fired by their bosses. Jason Reitman co-writes and directs with a style as smooth and assured as Clooney's. Eventually the film is about good choices and bad about independence and commitment. Costars Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick hold their own playing opposite Clooney. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Oddly enough, the film that UP IN THE AIR reminds me of is THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. In MAGNIFICENT SEVEN you have seven gunfighters who go from town to town solving serious problems for other people. They deal in lead and worry little about their victims. The people of the village all look up to the gunfighters, particularly the children do. But the peasants are the real winners because they have roots and family. The gunfighters are just drifters. Roots, we see, are of more importance than the glamorous image. In the end that is what the film is about as much as the gun fighting. UP IN THE AIR pulls the same little bait and switch on the viewer. It looks like it is about professional corporate down-sizers. It is really as much about people in glamorous jobs who trade personal connections and any semblance of a normal life for a glitzy profession.
The profession is "corporate downsizer". What is that? They say that everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. Business managers all over the country want to pay less in salaries by letting people go. That has been true for decades and it got much worse with the economic downturn. But management does not want to face their employees to fire them. Employees sometimes become violent, sometimes break down and cry, and sometimes make threats. And giving people bad news is simply a downer. Some employers have outsourced the undesirable task of firing employees to experts. Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), one such corporate axe- man makes a terrific living because he performs a service that business managers all over the country want. He is a professional firer. He breaks the bad news to employees he has not seen before and never will see again. Then he returns to his very fancy hotel room and sleeps like a baby. He has a nominal home to go back to, but prefers to be constantly on the road or flying up in the air. In one year he has racked up 350,000 airline miles. With his charm he has found and attracted Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga of NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH here in a star-making role). She is an attractive corporate traveler with whom he has uncomplicated wild sex whenever he can arrange it. It is a good life. There is just one problem. His expensive job may be eliminated. Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) just out of school has joined the same company. She intends to make firing even more impersonal by doing it over an Internet wire, thus saving huge travel and hotel expenses. This film is about this unlikely trio and their different philosophies of putting down roots. Ryan is so sure that his prestigious life style is perfect that he gives courses on how not to be tied down. Natalie is not so sure. Alex for her own reasons is very careful to stay out of the discussion.
Jason Reitman directs from a screenplay he co-wrote. Previously he directed THANK YOU FOR SMOKING about a lead lawyer for the tobacco industry who similarly had sacrificed his personal life for a highly remunerative job. Here he compares the firing style of the younger Natalie to the old pro Ryan. Natalie has more natural compassion for people she knows than Ryan does, but is more ruthless with total strangers. Ryan takes pride in softening the blows he brings to total strangers, even making the firing look momentarily like a positive step. He takes pride in his professionalism. But he has little more compassion for his family than he has for complete strangers.
One stylistic touch that is becoming a bit of a cliché is the montage of reaction shots. We have montages of five or six reactions of people being fired from the point of view of Ryan. We get two or three of these montages. Each employee fired takes the news in a slightly different way. Most are played by unknowns, but one is a short scene with the great J. K. Simmons, who played the father in Reitman's directly previous film JUNO.
It is odd that a film on such a painful subject in this economy can still entertain. Perhaps the economy even helps it. I rate UP IN THE AIR a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1193138/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/up_in_the_air_2009/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2010 Mark R. Leeper