Up in the Air
I made a connection
I made a connection
There are two different types of great movies out there. There are great movies that we acknowledge are great and we see why they are considered great, yet we watch them coldly and can only see their greatness, but not feel it on a personal level. One example of that for me was the vicious In the Company of Men (I know many of you haven’t heard about it, but bear with me). I thought it was really interesting, occasionally funny, and at the same time scathingly satiric of both corporate power and alpha-male dominance. And while I did think the movie was very good, it is not exactly a movie that is watched for entertainment (especially by women) or one I might see again. Up in the Air, on the other hand, represents the other kind of great movies. The ones that not only impress us as films, but also ones that we feel for and can relate to. And when one of those great movies comes along, it is truly something special.
Plot Synopsis: Ryan Bingham is not exactly a man who most people like. That is because he is firing most people who meet him from their jobs. You see when an employee’s company doesn’t have the gall to fire the person themselves, they call the company Ryan works for to get the job done. One day when he returns to HQ, Ryan learns that his boss has hired a young, aspiring girl named Natalie Keener, who wishes to rework the way business is carried out by way of webcam. Ryan and Natalie’s boss is excited about her proposition because it cuts costs and doesn’t require the workers to travel all around the country. But Ryan sees things differently, feeling that Natalie’s methods are unethical and disrespectful to the people they must fire and then offer new alternatives to. In addition to that, Ryan also doesn’t want his mode of business to change because he has met Alex Goran, who Ryan tries to meet up with whenever her flight schedule crosses with his. Ryan feels as though the two of them can have a steady relationship this way, but Natalie’s new propositions threaten to end that.
Before Jeff Bridges came in with Crazy Heart, began earning a heap of praise, and then subsequently won the Best Actor Oscar, I was positive that George Clooney was the frontrunner of the top prize for his performance as Ryan Bingham. Unfortunately, I have a feeling some people picked Bridges over Clooney because, at first glance, it appears like Clooney is just acting out another charismatic character that he often plays. But look closer and you will notice the subtle touches that Clooney incorporates to flesh out Bingham. One particular quality that stuck out was his brutal honesty and his almost cold responses to certain topics, undoubtedly stemming from Ryan’s disconnect from humanity, which is counteracted with his longing for some sort of human relationship or connection with somebody. But while Bingham has lost his personal humanity, he still genuinely cares for the people he must fire and the integrity of how his company conducts business.
Ryan’s more personal method of firing ironically contrasts with Natalie’s more impersonal form via webcam. What’s ironic is how Ryan’s work ethic is more humanly moral, yet as a person he is emotionally hollow while Natalie’s work method is cold even though she has made a connection with her boyfriend. Although Anna Kendrick’s performance is perhaps not as good as many other critics have said, she certainly has screen presence and holds her own against Clooney and the movies other female protagonist, Alex, played by Vera Farmiga. Clooney and Farmiga have remarkable chemistry together, sparking off each other with sharp observations and witty comebacks. Her profession allows her to travel a lot, which obviously works well with Ryan’s schedule, but a late film twist reveals that we should review the previous encounters between the two casual lovers in a new light.
With his biting tobacco industry satire Thank You for Smoking, the pleasantly witty Juno, and now Up in the Air, Jason Reitman has certainly solidified his position as one of the great directors of the past decade (especially since Juno and this were both nominated for Best Picture) and hopefully he can continue this strong streak in the future. While he isn’t as showy as other directors, Reitman has a clear and distinct style that he uses wonderfully here. Although it is mainly a drama, the movie has a sly sense of humor contained both in Reitman and Sheldon Turner’s screenplay, and Reitman’s visual work as a director. The comic timing between his actors is second-to-none and his sharp editing establishes the little details that define Ryan’s lifestyle in quick spurts of flash cutting. His clinically clean, blue and grey heavy color scheme helps to subtly reflect the hollowness of the main character’s job and how that shows in him as a person. Noticeably, the colors in the visuals become more varied and bright when the characters open up or are simply interacting with each other, especially Clooney and Farmiga. The only area where he slips up a little in is a third act section where Bingham reconnects with his family. This part is certainly welcome and a crucial element of the story, but it feels somewhat disconnected from the rest of the movie.
What really makes Up in the Air work though is how all these pieces come together in tandem to create a whole. Because as good as Clooney, Farmiga, Kendrick, Reitman, and Turner are, it is the parallels (Ryan and Alex), flip-flops (Ryan and Natalie), and themes (human connection) that pull everything together and make it what it is. In addition to the human element, Reitman and Turner also manage to make a very relevant satire about corporate industry and the way strings are pulled within it, especially given the current economic climate. Yet despite this, the movie never makes a clear reference to the recent recession with the exception of a few vague inferences. This lack of placement in a particular time is what helps to add to the films timeless quality, and that is what will keep the movie afloat in the future.