Being the recipient of six Golden Globe nominations, and possessing a director in Jason Reitman already responsible for the slick and quick-witted Thank You For Smoking, and the streetwise yet heart-warming Juno, to say that Up in the Air comes with a heavy weight of expectation would be an understatement. Thankfully, it passes with flying colours.
Reitman’s latest project sees George Clooney take on the role of Ryan Bingham, a ‘downsizing operative’ who’s job basically involves travelling the country firing people in between conducting motivational seminars preaching the virtues of a solitary, unencumbered life; all this building up to his lifelong ambition of reaching ten million air miles. He is, in short, a work-obsessed arsehole in the same vein as Aaron Eckhart’s Nick Naylor in Thank You For Smoking; having neglected his family to such an extent that he barely knows his own sister.
All this changes with the introduction of two women into his life: Alex (Vera Farmiga) a fellow frequent flyer who describes herself to Bingham as ‘you with a vagina’; and Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a new employee who Bingham reluctantly shows the ropes to. Needless to say, everything he believes in his self-centred life is brought into question.
The success of this film is largely attributable to Clooney’s performance. Already one of Hollywood’s leading men after star turns in the likes of Ocean’s Eleven, Syriana, Good Night & Good Luck and Michael Clayton, his performance is everything you would expect and more, witty and charismatic whilst at the same time embodying with perfect precision Bingham’s inner conflict over whether to continue with his solitary existence, or share it with someone, as he at one point muses: ‘Everyone needs a co-pilot’.
Like much of Reitman’s previous output, the comedy in Up in the Air is inspired more by the madness of the world around it, whether it’s Zach Galifianakis losing it after being laid off, or any scene involving Bingham’s egomaniac boss (a bearded Jason Bateman). It’s a subtle but effective brand of humour, contrasting well with the film’s more poignant moments, such as real-life footage of recently-fired workers, and is more relevant than ever in the current financial climate.
The rest of the cast impresses for the most part. Farmiga exudes warmth and worldly appeal as the been-there, done-that counterpart to Bingham, whilst newby Kendrick is great as Natalie, who’s driven and businesswoman-like exterior masks a very childlike vulnerability. Melanie Lynskey and Danny McBride are convincing enough as Bingham’s sister and prospective brother-in-law, and Reitman regular J.K. Simmons makes a welcome cameo.
Up in the Air continues Reitman’s unblemished directorial record thus far, and further enhances Clooney’s gravitas as a truly bankable star. Thumbs up from me.