It will be hard for some people to ignore the perceived parallels between four-time Oscar nominee George Clooney and fictional character, Ryan Bingham, in Jason Reitman’s new film Up in the Air. Both men seem to have everything: the world as their playground and a self-imposed emotional isolation that keeps them unencumbered. Lucky for us, that’s where the similarities end. Under Jason’s Reitman’s capable direction, and with a script that crackles the whole way through, George Clooney will be the farthest thing from your mind.
Ryan Bingham fires people for a living. He is a “termination engineer”, the person companies call to undo the knotty business of separating people from their jobs. He is a man with an address but no home, living a jet set lifestyle that suits his carefully crafted backpack philosophy of carefree living. Whose existence is so anti-commitment, it allows him to single-mindedly pursue his goal of joining an elite group of travelers who’ve accumulated enough frequent flier miles (ten million) to earn lifetime platinum member status.
But just like that, in the blink of an eye, Ryan’s well crafted way of life is threatened when a young new female employee, Natalie (Anna Kendrick), tries to make a name for herself at his company by developing a new method to manage layoffs: teleconferencing. He is vehemently opposed to the idea for a number of reasons: he can’t bear the thought of being grounded, firing people via the web seems inhumane, and standing still for him is…. terrifying. So begins the jump off into a story this is at once poignant and funny.
Another subplot is Ryan’s budding relationship with fellow extreme business traveler, Alex (Vera Farmiga). Alex and Ryan have chemistry to spare and are equally matched their attitudes about sex. She tells him, “think of me as you with a vagina.” Their relationship allows us to peer through the very sizable crack in Ryan’s defenses, to see a man questioning his convictions.
The notable cameos are Danny McBride (Ryan’s future brother-in-law), Zach Galifiniakis and Tamala Jones. The other cameos worth special mention are the real people who show up at the end to share their own layoff experiences. Given the social relevancy of the layoffs, the interviews are some of the most riveting footage you’ll see in or out of this film.
And all is not dark clouds; the interplay between the entire cast of characters provides for some very big real moments and even bigger laughs.
One of the best scenes in the movie takes place at the very end. We see an airplane flying above the clouds, destination unknown and then we hear Ryan’s voice. “Tonight the sun will set and the stars will wheel forth from the sky and one of those lights will be brighter than the rest, and that will be my taillight passing over.” I can’t think of more perfectly suited metaphor for a film that has the stuff to “pass over” the rest of this year’s crop of Oscar contenders. Fly—don’t walk—to see George Clooney give the performance of his career.