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Monday, January 4, 2010

Up in the Air

In a way, the fact that Up in the Air is considered by nearly all reviewers one of the two or three best films of the year is sad. Not that it isn't a very good movie, but there should be dozens of films of this quality released every year. The things that make Up in the Air stand out from a crowd are solid actors well cast, a polished script, and a talented if over-meddlesome director. Call me crazy, but that hardly sounds like an unreplicable process. And yet people are amazed.

But I'm not going to hold Up in the Air responsible for the rest of Hollywood. This is a fine film, one that I hope gets the wider audience that is so often denied to movies which are aimed primarily at adults and which do not feature superheroes. Clooney is his charming and engaging self as Ryan Bingham, a man who feels at home on an airplane and finds some dignity in firing people in person for a living. Vera Farmiga (The Departed) plays his female counterpart and in every way his equal. They meet up when they can in high-class hotels around the country and have believable chemistry. Anna Kendrick, who is apparently from the Twilight series, plays a hot-shot Cornell grad who impresses Clooney's boss (Jason Bateman) with an idea to fire people via video chat and save a ton on travel expenses.

The byplay between Kendrick and Clooney was my favorite part of the movie. Clooney's world of frequent flyer miles and handshakes is outdated, but Kendrick's plans seem horrifically impersonal and cruel. When her boyfriend breaks up with her via text message, Clooney can't help but point out the similarity to firing someone over the Internet. It's a good line (one of many in the script) and a good point besides. When the two of them are on the road together, with Clooney trying to show Kendrick that what he does (and more importantly, how he does it) has value, the movie really soars. (Forgive the airplane pun.) Kendrick's acting is superb in scenes where she tries to fire people, especially at a factory in Detroit where Bateman makes her fire people by chat even though they are there in the next room.

The film's topicality is perhaps the biggest boon to its Oscar chances, but they are not pure Awards-bait, and scenes highlighting the harsh nature of business and the rough economy are well-handled and seem more sincere than one might expect. One of the buildings Clooney visits is practically hollowed out, there are desks missing and the receptionist bursts into tears at the sight of them. It's a really haunting image. There is also the much-discussed use of real people, all of whom have been recently fired, in montages throughout the film. It says something to Reitman's talent that this doesn't distract from the film or feel as forced as it could have.

Without spoiling the movie, I will say that I enjoyed the way the movie handled the budding relationship between Clooney and Farmiga. It seemed different and, though I predicted it, the resolution felt more organically determined than cliche. I also thought the ending was interesting. Though it might be considered open-ended, I feel very strongly towards one possibility. I'm not sure if that says something about me or the movie, but I liked it.

Up in the Air is a professionally made, thoroughly competent, well-written and well-acted movie. If that's enough to win Best Picture so be it. Here it earns an 8.1 out of 10.

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