Review: Up in the Air

Up In the Air

The slower we move, the faster we die. We are not swans. We’re sharks

There’s always a number of films that come out and are designated ‘Oscar bait’. Films that carry some sort of assurance that says ‘best of the year’. Up in the Air was anointed so but it fizzled once The Hurt Locker rolled in. That’s a shame as it’s a terrifically well made film.

Dealing with issues of work redundancy, relationships and life choices with a degree of poise and assertiveness, like director Jason Reitman’s previous films there’s a humour to the proceedings that doesn’t feel out of place. This is a film that places an emphasis on characters and the relationships they strike over the course of the film. It’s not without a few problems butt they’re minor ones in what is a very accomplished piece of filmmaking.

The film follows George Clooney’s Ryan Bingham, whose job is to travel across the States and fire people. He finds himself on the wrong of the side termination room when a new, young upstart Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) introduces a computerised system that would make his job obsolete. Not liking the potential ramifications this would bring, he sets about showing Keener what his job entails and why he (and others like him) are important.

The film urges the viewer to feel some degree of compassion for a man whose job is rather distasteful and succeeds in doing so. He enjoys the job, not the firing aspect but the freedom it offers and the ‘turtle shell’ lifestyle it brings. He also has a motivation for travelling so much – the accumulation of 10,000,000 air miles.

He’s a man who doesn’t believe in being tied down, who sees his job as not being isolated from others but being surrounded by various people in different cities. The problem? He never makes any meaningful connection, living day to day without a solid relationship to anchor his life to.

Much like that turtle shell I think he believes himself to be impenetrable emotionally and averse to settling down. It’s a perspective he attempts to indoctrinate on others through his seminar speeches (“We are sharks”) that he gives at motivational conferences. He lives a nomadic life and is perfectly content with the life choices he’s made.

It’s a rather selfish move by Bingham to try and save his way of life (to be given a last chance when his job refuses that option to the people he fires) and while Bingham’s rugged charm may be seen as arrogance, there’s a belief within him that what he does and perhaps more specifically the way in which in conducts his affairs is very important not only to him but to the person he is ‘letting go’.

There’s an unspoken bond between him and whoever it is that he’s firing and he functions as a parachute gently bringing this person down to earth. Keener’s method is far more dangerous and reduces that personal connection which ironically he finds necessary.

A minor grievance I would have is with Kendrick’s character who facilitates this rather tiring stereotype that young people are enthusiastic, ‘peppy’ and unaware of the bigger picture (reminiscent of Rachel McAdams as a blogger in State of Play) whereas Bingham brings a degree of experience and knowhow.

It’s tiring in the sense that her arc is predictable because of that introduction. She’s the young upstart, he’s the old head, however will this duo work together etc…but that is essentially the crux of the film. The relationships we make and the reasons why we make those relationships.

It’s when Vera Farmiga’s Alex Goran comes into the picture that the film takes off (groan); her interactions with Bingham are littered with sparkle and the wit that Farmiga imbues in the character. The conversation they have over loyalty cards is both just a little sad and more than a little revealing into characters who find home away from home and get turned on by ‘elite status’. It doesn’t hurt that they’re both attractive as well.

Joined by Kendrick they make for an unlikely family and I think it’s that sense of having some sort of relationship whether it’s filial and romantic that pokes Bingham into the direction of his own family. Caught up 30,000ft in the air, he’s avoided his family who barely ever see him, people to whom he doesn’t even exist. You can see his head starting to turn as being in a relationship makes him think twice about the ways he has been advocating and perhaps overcome his reluctance and finally find someone.

This is why I love the ending. Its cold and you’re half expecting a happy one when he runs through the airport. It would be too easy for Ryan to be with Alex and would deflate the film and turn it into a more formulaic rom-com. What I like is the open ended conclusion; that the events of the film have set him on a path that he wasn’t willing or prepared to take. He’s been crushed much like the blows he’s given to employees around the country; now he’s going to get up and try again.

This is why I love the ending. Its cold and you’re half expecting a happy one when he runs through the airport. It would be too easy for Ryan to be with Alex and would deflate the film and turn it into a more formulaic rom-com. What I like is the open ended conclusion; that the events of the film have set him on a path that he wasn’t willing or prepared to take. He’s been crushed much like the blows he’s given to employees around the country; now he’s going to get up and try again.

My biggest problem with the film is with the testimonies given by people who look like they’re relating actual experiences who oddly enough in a film that feels realistic enough seem out of place. It’s perhaps the talking head nature of these moments that makes the film almost documentary-like in trying to ground the characters in a context that feels bizarre and off-putting. It doesn’t settle well as a footnote or endnote to the narrative and while it’s noble making the viewer aware of their plight it does seem as if the film loses a bit of its subtlety by doing so.

I haven’t mentioned the cinematography, especially the aerial shots which I love or Kendrick’s hilarious breakdown or J.K. Simmons who’s terrific in what amounts to an extended cameo. It’s scenes like that which the film does so well that elevates the film into a really potent dramedy.

There’s so much that the film gets right in terms of tone and performances that it’s easy to forgive its slight missteps and enjoy it. It’s a fantastic and complex film that’s easy to digest and watching it now makes me think that if I ever numbered my best of list that it would be very near the top.

8/10

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Posted on 27/01/2011, in Best of, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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