“Up In The Air” is the latest film from director Jason Reitman. It is his best film, which is saying something because he made “Juno” and “Thank You For Smoking”. This is his most emotionally penetrating story. So good is it that we don’t realize how the story really affects us till after it is over.
George Clooney gives another terrific performance as a man whose job it is to fire people. The company he works for is hired out by employers who are too weak to let their own employees go. He is good at what he does, but times are changing. One of the new recruits with his firm tries to revolutionize the way they do business by bringing in firing by webcam. This would eliminate the travel costs and cut down on the employee’s extended stays away from their homes.
The trouble is that Ryan, the Clooney character, has grown accustomed to life on the road. He enjoys is elite status with hotels and car rental company’s and looks forward to achieving unheard of heights with air miles. From time to time he meets with a fellow traveller played by Vera Farmiga. They go through the motions of a couple, they make love, enjoy each others company, then depart. They make plans to meet up in other cities. Their romance is touching but almost hollow as it seems to be headed no where.
Ryan’s fragile world is threatened by the new system they might be implementing at his job. The new recruit is Natalie Keener played by Anna Kendrick. She comes across as ruthless at first, but shows different sides when challenged by Ryan. Look at the way her confidence is shaken when she mock fires Ryan to show off her idea. Eventually she is assigned to the road with Ryan so that she can learn the ropes.
All of these scenes involving Ryan’s job and company are fascinating but it is not what the movie is really about. This is a study about Ryan’s life and how disconnected he is from the world. He doesn’t ever want to get married or have children. He lives in a one bedroom apartment that is barely furnished, which he has also been away from 340 days out of the year. He is in love with living in hotels. But when the real world comes calling, something changes.
This change comes from his sister’s wedding, which he has been dreading. Immediately when we meet them we can feel the distance. He has barely been in their lives. They miss him and don’t understand why. He even brings along Alex (Farmiga) as his date. From there the movie takes us places we did not see coming.
What makes all this compelling is the performances by everyone involved. Clooney in particular is so good as Ryan. He is a man who is desperate for a real connection but doesn’t realize it. His relationship with Farmiga is one of the most romantic screen encounters I have seen in a long time. She is just so warm and they have such great chemistry together. Where they end up I could not have predicted at all. Nor could I have predicted it’s impact on myself. Their relationship is one that will haunt me for a long time.
Anna Kendrick on the other hand is quite the opposite. She tries desperately to display a hard outer shell, but she is masking deeper needs and has made decisions in her life that might not be the wisest.
The rest of the cast stand out in their smaller roles. There are two throw away performances I want to talk about quickly. The first is by Danny McBride, who is usually playing low life’s, but here plays a guy who is the opposite of Clooney. Here is the family man that Ryan will never be.
The second is by J.K. Simmons as one of the unfortunate souls who loses his job. His initial reaction is not too original, but where him and Clooney take the conversation is unexpected and almost delightful.
“Up In The Air” might just be the best film of 2009. It is so effortlessly acted and directed. These guys make this look so simple but it is really a very complex film. Not a lot of movies can really resonate with us long after they are over, but the journey these characters take has touched me deeply. Reitman uses these characters and situations to touch on a whole range of human emotion. Not a lot of movies can really resonate with us long after they are over, but the journey these characters take has touched me deeply. He makes films that are original, edgy yet accessible to main stream audiences. That is an incredible feat.