Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air is a great film. What makes it so remarkable isn’t just that it’s timely and brilliant – it’s that it started out to be one thing and then, when the world’s financial climate changed radically, Reitman adapted it to fit the times in a way that is, topically at least, irony free – a first for him.
Ryan Bingham [George Clooney] is a corporate assassin. When companies downsize and don’t have the stones to do the firing themselves, Bingham’s boss [Jason Bateman] sends him to do the dirty work – which he does in a calculatedly semi-warm, dignified manner.
The job keeps Bingham on the road over three hundred days a year and he has traveling down to an art [when he’s home, home is a cheap one-bedroom efficiency apartment bereft of any personal touches]. He enjoys the travel; is good at his job, and is working on becoming only the seventh person to reach 10,000,000 air miles [that’s fewer people than have walked on the moon, he notes].
His perfect, solitary world is jarred when his boss hires an aggressive, smart college grad to turn the job into an over-the-internet process that will save the company millions. Natalie Keener [Anna Kendrick] makes Bingham’s teeth hurt, so he shows her some the many ways her process won’t work – which gets him a traveling partner so that he can show her the ropes. The hope is that his input will allow her to adapt his ideas to her process.
At the same time, Bingham, has begun to have an affair with a woman he met in a hotel bar – Alex Goran [Vera Farmiga]. She doesn’t have his air miles, but she’s a fun person to hook up with and their meetings/trysts are delightfully casual.
The stage is now set for two things: Natalie’s world to fall apart and Bingham’s to grow. Or so it would seem. The turning points are for Natalie, one key termination interview and, for Bingham, his youngest sister’s wedding. From this point, we do get some of the now famous Reitman irony, though it only concerns Bingham’s life and not the financially crumbling world in which he makes his living. Indeed, the distinction between living and making a living is a key theme throughout.
And I haven’t even mentioned Bingham’s rising career as a motivational speaker.
Up in Air treats its victims of downsizing with a reality and compassion that offsets the tropes of the romantic comedy that seems to be developing between Bingham and Alex, and the mentor/student relationship between Bingham and Natalie. This wouldn’t work if the script wasn’t so sharp and the performances by Clooney, Farmiga and Kendrick weren’t so precise.
It may be ironic that Jason Reitman’s least ironic film may be his best, but it does tell us that he has more than one weapon in his cinematic arsenal. Up in the Air is Reitman’s most assured and brilliantly realized film – and when that’s in comparison with Thank You for Smoking and Juno, that’s saying a lot. That it plays as well in my living room as it did on the big screen is a definite plus, too.
Features: Commentary by Writer/Director Jason Reitman, Director of Photography Eric Steelberg and first Assistant Director Jason Blumenfeld; Shadowplay: Before The Story; Deleted Scenes [with Optional commentary by Jason Reitman]; Teaser Trailer; Theatrical Trailer.
Grade: Up in the Air – A+
Grade: Features – A
Final Grade: A