Ryan Bingham (Clooney) is a corporate downsizing expert whose job is to travel around to different companies and determine who needs to be terminated. His only joy in life comes from the prospect of scoring his 10 million frequent flier miles. But, as he closes in on his goal and just after he's met the frequent-traveler woman of his dreams, his cherished life on the road becomes threatened.

Clooney takes flight in a thoroughly modern epiphany tale.

A truism that’s equally applicable to personal development and air travel is that you can’t help others until you help yourself. Director Ivan Reitman explores this concept to excellent effect in his thoroughly modern epiphany tale, Up in the Air.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is an avowed bachelor in his mid-40s who travels in excess of 300 days of the year. The charming and self-assured traveller is estranged from his own family and his only true attachments exist with the elite traveller loyalty programs of the countless airlines and hotel chains that he calls home.

For a man whose frequent flyer miles are rapidly approaching the magic 10 million mark, Ryan Bingham’s worldview is surprisingly limited. He personifies travelling light, and he works the speaker circuit in his downtime, espousing the virtues of culling one’s existential baggage to fit within a backpack. This personal philosophy of letting go even extends to his career where, as a corporate downsizing consultant, he is despatched to large firms to handle the messy (and potentially litigious) business of terminating employees. With a reassuring tone and a rousing speech about new horizons, he gives hope – however fleetingly – to the newly devastated. For that touch of realism, director Reitman peppers the film with real-life testimonies of the recently retrenched, sourced from open casting calls in two of America’s hardest hit cities, St Louis and Detroit (applicants were asked to repeat what they said – or wish they’d said – on the day they were shown the door).

Given the state of the economy, Ryan’s unique brand of personalised pink-slipping is in high demand, until the bright ideas of a perky young graduate, Natalie (Anna Kendrick) threaten to clip his wings for good. Natalie ingratiates herself with Ryan’s boss Craig (a perfectly smarmy Jason Bateman), with her cost-saving blueprints for a Skype-like set-up that could enable the fleet of consultants to work on home soil. Naturally, the prospect of being permanently grounded in Omaha sends Ryan on a downward spiral that not even crack pilot Chesley 'Sully" Sullenberger could correct. His complaints fall on deaf ears, and he is charged with taking the young upstart along on his last cross-country trip, for in-the-field experience of the nature of the business.

Reitman’s Up in the Air is an excellent addition to a resume that already boasts Thank You For Smoking and Juno. His knack lies in humanising his central characters to take them beyond their limited archetypes (a tobacco lobbyist, a mouthy teen, and now, a corporate downsizer), aided by ample offerings of razor wit and smart – if occasionally snarky – dialogue.

To that end, Clooney’s and Kendrick’s unlikely travelling companions make great sparring partners, with all of their conflicts and contradictions on show; the ambitious efficiency expert reveals herself to be an idealistic romantic who abandoned a promising career to follow her boyfriend across the country, and yet she has no qualms about firing people over the web. Likewise, the advocate for the empty backpack is a staunch defender of the need for personal interaction when one is on the receiving end of a termination notice.

But as far as on-air partnerships go, theirs is nothing compared to the one Clooney shares Vera Farmiga’s Alex, the female counterpart who matches his confidence and competitiveness when they size each other up in an airport hotel bar ('Think of me as you, only with a vagina," is one of her more memorable offerings). The two make a sultry screen couple, and their instant familiarity and subsequent cross-country sexting to align schedules for their next no-strings attached hook-up, is a delight (even if a later plot development is easy to pick).

Clooney is in his element as the charming anti-hero of the piece, and the actor visibly relishes the chance to send up aspects of his own playboy persona. When his accomplished traveller is forced below natural cruising altitude, Clooney looks every bit his 48 years on the downward descent. It’s a nuanced turn from the actor whose screen personas tend to waver between the serious (Michael Clayton, Syriana) and the silly (his Coen Bros comedies, the upcoming The Men Who Stare at Goats), with a yawning chasm in the middle. With Up in the Air, he finally straightens up and flies right, and the result is a pleasant journey for all concerned.


1 hour 49 min
In Cinemas 14 January 2010,
Thu, 05/13/2010 - 11