Up in the Air soars into Oscar season

Following the critical and commercial acclaim of his first two projects (Thank You for Smoking and Juno), Jason Reitman’s third directorial effort, Up in the Air, is currently expanding slowly into national release.

Up in the Air, which stars George Clooney, is receiving a bigger wave of anticipation than Reitman’s previous films, in large part due to the success of Juno.  The anticipation is well-based.  Up in the Air is one of the most intelligent and surprising films to hit theaters in quite some time, and its arrival in theaters couldn’t be more timely.

Ryan Bingham, played effortlessly by George Clooney, is a corporate downsizer – he fires people, professionally.  Bingham is flown in by companies not wanting to face the collateral damage of corporate downsizing.

In the current economic climate, reflected in the film, business is booming for Bingham.  This works well with what he wants.  Bingham is content with never being settled in one place.  His life is a series of airplane rides, hotel rooms, and very few, distant relationships.  He even has a side job where he gives self-help lectures on “unpacking the backpack of your life.”

Clooney’s personification of the role works particularly well, mainly because Bingham is supposed to be able to effortlessly deliver news that is always devastating, in a calm and even comforting manner.  Clooney’s natural charms are all on display, making this one of the best roles of his career.

What’s more fascinating about Bingham, though, is his dedication to his job.  Nobody likes to fire somebody – but someone has to.  Reitman hired people who had actually just been fired to play some of the firing victims, and asked them to improvise how they felt upon being fired.  The result feels real, and ultimately painful.

Bingham’s time on the road is threatened by the concept of firing via web chat, an idea that Bingham’s employer takes an interest in because it saves on airfare and hotel rooms.

Additional complications arise from Bingham’s interactions with two women who enter his life during the plot.  Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick, Twilight) is an earnest newcomer who is partnered with Bingham to demonstrate the necessity of his time on the proverbial road.  Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga, The Departed), meanwhile, is a fellow permanent traveler who becomes the closest thing to a girlfriend Bingham has allowed.

Not enough can be said about Reitman’s work on this film.  Between the writing and direction presented in this film, it’s evident that Reitman’s talents are only improving.  In his review of the film, Roger Ebert noted that “he makes smart, edgy mainstream films.  That’s harder than making smart, edgy indies.”  It’s true.  What Reitman has done with this film already has the year-end film awards buzzing, with Up in the Air currently among the frontrunners for next year’s Best Picture Oscar.  The film is certainly worthy of a nomination, if not an outright win.


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