Wednesday, January 20, 2010

UP IN THE AIR / ****

Distributor: Paramount
Release Date: December 4, 2009
Genre: Comedy / Drama
Running Time: 109 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Many years ago, William Shakespeare wrote “to thine own self be true.” Ryan Bingham, the hero (or anti-hero?) of Jason Reitman’s latest and finest film, “Up in the Air,” seems to have taken that advice.

Ryan Bingham fires people for a living. When bosses don’t have the temerity to fire their own employees, Bingham flies in from his home base of Omaha to deliver the bad news. In today’s harsh economic times, Bingham is a very busy man. “Last year I spent 322 days on the road,” he says, “which means I had to spend 43 miserable days at home.” He certainly does not like Omaha (a sentiment to which I can relate), but Ryan Bingham seems like the kind of guy who would hate home no matter where home is. His ultimate goal is to reach 10 million miles, a plateau that only six other people have ever achieved.

However, with things changing so rapidly in every other profession, the business of firing people is no exception. Bingham’s boss Craig Gregory (the versatile Jason Bateman) introduces a young firebrand Cornell graduate named Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick of “Rocket Science”), who has the idea of firing people over the internet via video screen. Bingham of course objects to this idea. Does he hate it simply because it will keep him grounded in Omaha and stunt his goal of 10 million miles, or does he really care about the people he’s firing? A strong argument can certainly be made for both.

Before the internet firing process can be rolled out, Bingham takes Keener on the road with him to show her the ropes. On one of his trips, Bingham hooks up with Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), who doesn’t travel quite as much as him, but is interested in the same Gold Clubs and Perks Rewards Bingham is. They are almost instantly on an even plain – Alex seems like the one woman in the planet who is as witty as Bingham, and their chemistry is palpable from the moment they’re on screen together. She seems to love life on the road as much as Bingham, but she might be ill-equipped to handle the complexities that accompany such a venture.

Throughout his years of firing people, Bingham has become detached from what most people would call “real life.” His family barely knows him, and when someone on a plane asks him where he lives, he responds with “here.” Clooney plays Bingham with a subtlety that few actors could pull off. He’s so good at this point in his career that it hardly even looks like he’s trying. Unlike Reitman’s previous film, the wildly overrated “Juno,” all of the characters speak and act in a way that doesn’t betray their own nature, or feel forced for the sake of being clever.

In addition to the three leads, the pitch-perfect casting presents several memorable characters, most of which only appear in one scene. Amy Morton and Melanie Lynskey play Bingham’s estranged sisters Kara and Julie; Danny McBride plays Julie’s fiancĂ© Jim Miller; Sam Elliot pops up as pilot Maynard Finch; and Zack Galifianakis is Steve, one of Bingham’s victims. The venerable J.K. Simmons has perhaps the film’s best scene as another man Bingham fires, but manages to give hope to.

Besides his duties relieving people of theirs, Bingham delivers motivational speeches using a backpack as a metaphor for unloading all of the things that weigh you down in life, particularly relationships with people. He has a philosophy of not getting attached to anyone or anything that he rigidly sticks to until he meets Alex, who threatens to turn his entire world upside down. The results of this relationship I will not reveal, but I refer back to the Shakespeare quote from earlier in my review.

“Up in the Air” is a remarkable film, one that is both timely and timeless, no less than an American Classic. This is one of the best films of the year.

Theater: RDM Westroads 14, Omaha, NE
Time: 345 pm
Date: January 15, 2010

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