By Marty Mulrooney
I have always been a huge George Clooney fan, even if I haven’t loved every single film he has been in. I just find him a class act, that rare breed of actor that nearly died out in Hollywood years ago. A suit wearing charmer that would struggle in certain roles for being almost too perfect, yet who manages to embody the affluent American gentleman perfectly. He is an analogue watch in a digital age, but to be fair he pulls it off really, really well. So is Up In The Air one of his blockbusters, or another of his riskier indie projects? Surprisingly, this may actually be the film to successfully straddle between the two…
I loved the opening credits. Cloudy skies with ocean blue nothingness swimming behind them for several enchanting minutes, before we finally hit the cold grey concrete of a landing strip. This Land Is Your Land by Sharon Jones blasts out with its thick, funky beat as a musical accompaniment… an inspired start. The soundtrack continues to be strong throughout: I urge you to listen to the achingly beautiful ‘Genova’ by Charles Atlas as soon as possible.
Remember that blue nothingness I just mentioned? It is a somewhat apt description of the feeling conjured up visually by Up In The Air. Directed by Jason Reitman (Juno) the film tells the story of Ryan Bingham (Clooney), a man whose sole purpose in life is to tell employees that they are fired because their own bosses are too afraid to do so themselves. Living out of a suitcase for the majority of the year, this ‘nothingness’ surrounds Ryan everywhere, on a repeat cycle. It is built into the very fabric of the airport terminals, plane seats and rental cars that he inhabits every single day of his journey towards infinity. He travels everywhere and gets nowhere.
Many of the reactions shown early on of people getting fired in Up In The Air were apparently taken from real life: the filmmakers pretended they were making a documentary on job loss and got people to say into the camera what they wish they had said at the time of their severance. The result is both hilarious and heartbreaking.
George Clooney really sells the idea that somebody can have such a horrible job and still be likeable. He fires you, makes you eat shit… and then you thank him for it afterwards. But what price does a man pay for having no human connections, from being a mere cog in the machine, for devastating others and putting a price on it?
So far into the review and still no real concrete details on the plot. That is the type of film this is really… evasive. Vera Farmiga as Alex Goran is wonderful as the love interest of the film. Charming and naturally pretty, without pulling the whole show down to rom-com levels of silliness. As she explains to Ryan: “Just think of me as you with a vagina.” She matches Clooney every step of the way.
Likewise, Anna Kendrick as Natalie Keener is a knock-out. Confident and insecure. Loved up and then hung-up. As the central catalyst of the plot (she wants to change the company’s methods so the travel part is actually not necessary) she clashes and dazzles in equal measures. That she doesn’t realise the coldness of firing someone over a webcam is contrasted to perfection with Ryan’s disinterest in the people being fired. He just wants to keep moving. As he tells his listeners at a motivational speech he is giving:
Make no mistake, moving is living. Some animals were meant to carry each other to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans. We are sharks. – Ryan Bingham
This is a film that sticks to its guns. Just when you think a subplot about Ryan’s sister’s wedding is going to reduce the whole thing into sentimental mush, it pulls back sharply. Make no mistake, this is a film about wasted time, about probably dying alone and ultimately, about struggling to make a connection. There isn’t a happy ending, or a particularly unhappy one. Our protagonist doesn’t grow. He has already grown, but then decided to bury himself so deep that all he has is a wallet of membership cards to VIP lounges full of strangers.
Some people will hate this film simply because it bucks the conventions of both the mainstream and the indie movie: it has its own agenda. Post 9/11, this agenda both stings and kisses us with tender tokens of empty promise. The fact that it provides several big laughs along the way without resorting to slapstick is admirable. You may feel dazed afterwards, or perhaps have that nothingness I mentioned earlier on swimming around in your head like a cloud. I think perhaps that is what they were going for all along. Worth a watch for Clooney’s fantastic ‘backpack’ speech alone, Up In The Air is a thought-provoking portrayal of loneliness and humanity, that falls just shy of greatness.
8 OUT OF 10