He writes, he directs, he produces, he’s a human rights activist and he acts. The “he” is George Clooney, and he’s the best thing about the movie experience since popcorn. His impeccable performance in the new film “Up in the Air” has “Oscar” written all over it and, boy, does he deserve it.
Clooney plays Ryan Bingham — corporate axe man, cleaner, terminator — take your pick. He’s paid to fire dedicated employees by bosses who don’t have the stomach for it. Ironically, Bingham loves his job and everything that goes with it, especially flying. His mantra is: “To know me is to fly with me.” His goal in life: to amass 10 million frequent-flyer miles.
And that’s what’s wrong with Bingham. He’s convinced that he has no emotional needs. But that perfect world comes crashing down when his boss (Jason Bateman, one of the best cheesy sleaze actors in the business, i.e.”State of Play”) hires Natalie (“Twilight’s”Anna Kendrick). Young, fresh and a bottom-liner, she’s come up with a more efficient way to fire employees via webcam teleconferences. Bingham sees the writing on the wall. He’ll be grounded. No more commitment-free king-of-the-road. Worst of all, he’ll be forced to make connections with human beings rather than in airports.
Jason Reitman writes and directs this brilliant piece of filmmaking, hitting his third home run in as many times at bat (“Thank You For Smoking” and “Juno”). The cunningly clever script is perfectly paired with an amazing cast. Vera Farmiga (“The Departed”) showcases her immense yet subtle talent as Clooney’s love interest, their chemistry reminiscent of that between Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. One of my favorite supporting actors, J.K. Simmons (“Burn After Reading” and “Juno”), has a small role as an employee being fired. It’s so well executed that he manages to steal the scene from Clooney, which is not an easy task.
Reitman actually hired ordinary people who had been laid off to work in the film. They were asked to re-create their real-life experience on camera and instructed to treat the camera as the person who fired them, reacting accordingly. The impact is gut wrenching. Reitman gives face to the appalling statistics that exist in our country, and it hits home big time.
“Up in the Air” sends a multitude of messages, clear and concise amid the murky waters in which we’re treading these days. It also provides its audience with an optimistic treatise on human nature while it thoroughly entertains. Most importantly, the film demonstrates that life is better with company, and everybody needs a co-pilot.
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