Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) fires people. It’s his job. He’s not a CEO nor does he work in Human Resources. He is a hired gun brought in to facilitate a business’ bloodletting. He handles the dirty work “the suits” don’t have the stomach for. As such, he exists in a world of perpetual travel. Constantly moving from town-to-town; delivering bad news like some sort of funhouse mirror Santa Claus. Checking in. Checking out. Amassing frequent flyer miles and memberships in customer loyalty programs. He exudes charm and detachment…he is, after all, George Clooney. And make no mistake; Bingham enjoys his life; the corporate uniformity of airports and hotels and the status his incessant travel affords him. And, believe it or not, he enjoys his job. While the idea of interminably terminating might not sound palatable, it is work for which he is well-suited. Years of on-the-job-training have turned him into an efficient officiant of the ceremony of ritualistic downsizing. He’s not callous, mind you, but his natural state of detachment serves him well. However, Bingham’s world is threatened when youthful corporate cutthroat Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) is brought on-board at his place of employment. She is tasked with cutting costs and ushering the company into the 21st century. Her first order of business? Slash the company’s travel expenses by instituting a system that would allow them to fire people via video conference from the comfort of their home office. [morelink]
In an effort to simultaneously teach and undermine Keener, Bingham takes her on the road. His goal, ostensibly, is to show her the ropes. His hidden agenda is to prove to her that she doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to fire people on daily basis; that there is an intangible value to personal interaction that an internet connection can’t replicate no matter how fast your connection. Seeing Keener in action illustrates just how good Bingham is at his job. While they both bring the same level of detachment to the proceedings, it’s the nature of aloofness that makes all the difference. We quickly see that Keener’s detachment is to protect herself whereas Bingham’s self-imposed distance is to protect his undeserving victims. Bingham is the ultimate improvisational actor; innately feeling what the other participant wants (or needs) to hear. He doesn’t coddle or offer false hope, an approach that initially appears heartless. That is, until we see Keener’s overly officious, and utterly emotionless, methods.
Bingham is a role tailor-made for Clooney. His character is something of a contradiction-in-terms – cutthroat yet compassionate, callous yet caring, matter-of-fact yet charming. Many actors today could have played one (or even some) these traits but only Clooney could juggle them all. Kendrick as the persnickety Keener is a delight. The role is something of a variation on the part she played in the little-seen (and underrated) Rocket Science but she knocks it out of the park. And Vera Farmiga as Alex Goran, Bingham’s equally business-minded love interest, will no doubt finally receive the recognition that’s been eluding her.
Up in the Air is the rarest of all things: a mainstream Hollywood film for grown-ups. It is by turns melancholy and light-hearted; contemplative and whimsical; cynical and, despite being a tale of the economic downturn, hopeful. It has a unique perspective and comments on the times we live in. And, if that’s not enough, it’s a romantic-comedy where a middle-aged (Clooney) man falls for *gulp* a woman (Vera Farmiga) his own age. It is, quite possibly, a perfect film.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being *** and 1 being ***, Up in the Air gets a 10.