Posted by: Dr P | February 15, 2010

Up in the Air

No, this is not a review of the style of football employed by the likes of Macclesfield Town, nor is it a comment on my current employment situation; this is actually a corking comedy-drama and the latest vehicle for the talents of Mr George Clooney.

Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham, a specialist hired by large companies to “fire” staff, and set them on their way to a new career. In the course of this job he clocks up more airmiles than Prince Andrew; indeed he is so prolific that he’s rapidly approaching 10 million miles travelled – roughly equivalent to 20 return trips to the Moon. However, the arrival of young whizzkid Natalie (Anna Kendrick) and her new remote computer-to-computer system for carrying out the same job instantly puts Bingham’s target in jeopardy.

Bingham may appear to have a jetset lifestyle, yet his enforced grounding reveals the double life he leads; he has no real friends to speak of, and his home base is a grotty bedsit apartment with little in the way of luxuries. Despite enjoying an endless succession of travel perks and fine hotels, Bingham has given little thought to life beyond work, and is like a fish out of water away from the travel.

However, a first test of the remote firing method ends in disaster, and Bingham is set back out on the road – this time with Natalie in tow. His goal is to try and show her why such “dinosaurs” as Bingham offer a far more human and responsive face to the nasty job they are forced to carry out, and why there is no substitute for a face to face meeting.

The relationship between Natalie and Bingham is nicely offset by one he strikes up with Alex, a travelling saleswoman played beautifully by the very sexy Vera Farmiga. After a chance initial encounter, which leads to some quite steamy antics, Alex and Bingham spend half their time trying to work out which airport or hotel to rendezvous in down the line, with some tremendously well-observed humour about this type of relationship.

Ultimately, Bingham reaches his milestone, but the succession of events around this make us feel very little in the way of joy, more sadness for the shell of a life he leads, and even more despair when his desperate attempts to salvage a normal life out of all this end in ultimate rejection and disaster.

Part of the drama comes from seeing the myriad reactions of people to losing their jobs and livelihoods, and the disparate ways they deal with this: in the current era of job cuts and redundancies, it’s a stark reminder of what a tough employment world is out there.

Clooney is absolutely marvellous; there are few actors out there who can pull off his suave charm whilst also producing effortless comic timing – Pitt is another, and the joy of the Ocean films was in watching these two masters of the art sparring on screen. A deserved Oscar nomination has come his way, with a similar nod to director Ivan Reitman, who excels at this sort of movie – he handles it with care and a deft touch throughout, ensuring a smooth ride for the audience even when Clooney’s life is beset with air pocket after air pocket.

Some of the dialogue is razor sharp, with the Bingham character in particular wholeheartedly believing in his way of life and the ways to maximise his lifestyle. Ultimately, it’s all about the airmiles, and it takes a long while for the realisation of just how forlorn that really is, and how lonely his life genuinely has become, to set in. The uncomfortable scenes when Bingham attends his sister’s wedding are a stark realisation that while his career may be a huge success, his personal life is totally messed up.

The supporting cast play well, with Farmiga heating up the screen, and Kendrick providing a superb comic and dramatic foil for Clooney. The latter really grows into her role, and its her realisations both about her own struggling relationship and the way Bingham’s world works, that eventually bring the best out of the movie.

An ultimately touching movie, this does not perhaps provide the feelgood experience it may initially suggest, but it’s well worth a view, and Clooney lovers in particular will lap this up. Highly recommended.

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