Director Jason Reitman is on the cusp of greatness. In three movies he has taken potentially unlikeable characters (tobacco lobbyist, teenager mother, corporate firer) and crafted feel mostlygood stories that would make adults want to go to the cinema again. Up in the Air may be his best yet.
With a job that has him travelling around the country firing people, Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) leads an empty life out of a suitcase, until his company does the unexpected and grounds him, when a new employee (Anna Kendrick) comes up with a cheap way of firing people by video link.
The cast is top notch from Clooney and Vera Farmiga to relative newcomer Kendrick. Clooney plays against type as a vapid character who has very little connection with society and whose only aim is to reach 10 million air miles. It’s a masterstroke in casting as the legendary Clooney smile keeps him on the right side of hateful. Yes he is somewhat soulless, but is still repelled by the idea of a firing system via video link. As he says at one point ‘This is the worst day of their lives’.
Farmiga if anything is even better, her character is as she says to Clooney at one point ‘you with a vagina’. They flirt over loyalty cards and the pros and cons of car rental firms. It’s refreshing to see such a well written and mature relationship where both characters have a chance to shine.
Despite being around for several years, the story has taken on an eerie prescience, with the recent economic downturn meaning many people would associate with the poor souls being given a just booklet and a few months pay in return for their working lives.
The film works so well because the basic premise remains grounded in reality. Don’t expect a Hollywood ending here. It is risky even playing the comedy card when talking about job losses but the film resists the urge to go for schmaltz and the easy answers. Yet it remains laugh out loud funny in the right places.
It might get overlooked when the awards are given out simply because there are no big speeches, or tearful breakdowns(At least Reitman was rewarded with a Best Screenplay Golden Globe). What you left with is a film that is brilliantly acted, written and directed. You can’t get much better than that.