Thursday, December 31, 2009

Review - Up in the Air

In Up in the Air, George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a “corporate downsizer” whose life revolves around flying all over the country, laying off workers from companies who are too chicken to do the deed themselves. Anyone else would have difficulty leading such a life, but Ryan is right at home hopping from city to city. The clinical precision with which he checks in and out of airports and hotels is matched only by his clinical approach towards firing people he doesn’t even know. When he isn’t flying around he busies himself having sex with a woman who is also a frequent flyer (Vera Farmiga). But once he begins showing the ropes to a keen young go-getter fresh out of school (Anna Kendrick), he slowly starts to realize that his perfect fly-by-night lifestyle is only his way of fleeing human contact. Having spent so many years on the road and estranged from his from his family, Ryan has alienated any meaningful relationship. All the worthwhile things in life are on the ground. It’s awfully lonely up in the air with all that empty space.

This being his third hit in a row, it is clear that Jason Reitman is currently one of our finest filmmakers. Some have even described him as the Billy Wilder of our generation. It’s a reasonable comparison. Reitman has crafted this story with humour and sensitivity. Many have noted the timeliness of the film because of its prominent reference to people losing their jobs in a bad economic climate. But there are so many other themes at work here. Youth and age, love and family, connectivity and distance, what we wish for and what’s practical, the disappointment of our expectations not being met, the joy of simply being with another person; all of these thoughts come to the fore at the same time during Up in the Air. Each and every shot is a sea of nuance, with hidden depths of emotion and significance. Everyone can connect to this film on some personal level.

Many accolades have already been bestowed on the film’s actors, and rightfully so. Clooney gives the best performance of his career in an understated but totally involving piece of minimalist acting. Anna Kendrick shows a subtle gradation from sparky to sadder-but-wiser. Vera Farmiga convincingly sells that she and Ryan share the same philosophy on life, that is [MINI-SPOILER], until a crucial twist near the end.

Count on nominations for Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress (one or both), Adapted Screenplay, and Film Editing. Due to the music branch’s prickly regulations, Brad Smith’s wonderful tune “Help Yourself” was not eligible for the Original Song shortlist, but that won’t stop me from putting it on my personal ballot (to be posted on the eve of Oscar nominations).

***1/2 out of ****

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