Len Cripe, managing director of the Savannah Film Festival, had his lips sealed about the Director’s Choice film until the opening credits. A blue sky with clouds. George Clooney. A Jason Reitman film. It was “Up in the Air.”
Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a man hired to fire. He travels the country firing people at companies that are downsizing and can’t do it themselves. But it’s more than firing people.
“We take people at their most fragile and set them adrift,” says Bingham.
He is a mastermind of getting through security quickly. He lives from Hilton to Hilton, seat 1B to 4A, O’Hare to St. Louis International. These places that are “in between” for most, is where he resides.
This character piece reveals Clooney in, what I think, is one of his most honest, empathetic roles. His luxurious vagabond lifestyle gives him status. He is in the Hertz gold club, a Hilton Honored guest, and an American Airlines frequent flier with an ultimate goal of 10 million miles. Shallow as it might seem, you’re rooting for him.
Bingham spends 322 days out of the year on the road and he is good at what he does, until Natalie (Anna Kendrick) threatens his lifestyle by making the company “glocal.” Making global, local and grounding everyone—firing people via webcam.
Bingham has to first take her with him and train her to fire people face-to-face. The contradictions in their personalities, tech-savvy and talk-savvy, naïve and mature, romantic and cynic, make the dialogue between them funny and biting.
In the midst of all this, Bingham, who lives a life of solitude is a motivational speaker teaching people how to do just that: live alone. His pitch is a backpack. He says to pack all of your life, from knickknacks to people in the bag.
“Feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake; your relationships are the heaviest components of your life. All those negotiations and arguments and secrets are compromising. The slower we move, the faster we die. Make no mistake. Moving is living.” He teaches people how to fit their lives in an airplane overhead bin.
He wants nothing more than 10 million miles and to live up to his lecture until he meets the elegant Alex (Vera Farmiga of “The Departed“ and “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”) who also “gets turned on by elite status.” She is his female counterpart in one of those guilty pleasure, rendezvous romances.
On screen, the plot is simple and seamless. Coworkers are forced to get along. A romance is determined by the days when schedules collide. This story is gripping in its reality and whether it’s Bingham’s hometown in Nebraska or its relevance to the current economic climate, the film has a humbleness about it.
Everything comes together in a way that keeps you thinking about this film for hours after you see it. It’s hopeful and true. “Up in the Air” rises through the pitfalls of the economy’s affect on Americans and finds inspiration in character.
“Up in the Air” opens nationwide Dec. 25.
Contact Katelan Cunningham