Up In The Air *** (out of ****)

Director: Jason Reitman
Writers: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner based on the novel by Walter Kim
Cast: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Amy Morton, Melanie Lynskey, J. K. Simmons
Rating: R (language and some sexual content)
Running Time: 109 min
Release Date (wide): 12/25/09

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) has a rather distasteful job: Termination Facilitator. At least most people with any normal since of empathy would find it so. Ryan seems to be shut of from such feelings. He does understand them intellectually and can anticipate how people will react to the bad news. So he is quite good at what he does.

The film is very topical with all of the recent layoffs due to the recession. As Ryan’s boss Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman) says “bad times for them are good times for us.” So Ryan is “up in the air” quite a lot as he travels around the country racking up a lot of frequent flier miles while doing the dirty work for corporate managers who want to avoid the complications that go with all of the firings. He also has a lot of tricks that expedites his travels including techniques to get through security with less hassle, special cards that get him to the front of the line, and how to travel light to avoid checked luggage.

Being such a slick manipulative personality and single you might correctly expect that he would be hooking up with women that he met during his travels. And, that none of these relationships would truly be very close. So beings his relationship with Alex Gorgan (Vera Farmiga) an attractive business traveler he meets in a hotel bar. They meet for sex from time to time when their travels happen to cross paths. He never really gets to know her and this will lead to a major shock to him at that end of the story.

Things are about change for Ryan when his firm hires a spunky 23-year-old Cornell graduate, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), who sells Craig on the idea that the firm can save a lot on travel costs firing people by video conference rather than in person. Ryan takes exception to this but is because he really thinks that those being fired deserve a personal touch or is it because it will stop his travels? At any rate Craig has Ryan take Natalie on the “road” with him to get some first hand experience firing people.

A little poetic justice occurs when Natalie’s boyfriend who she followed to Omaha, Nebraska, the home base of Ryan’s company, dumps her by e-mail while she is on travel. As an aside does her advocacy of electronic terminations stem from a desire to stay close to home rather than her claimed economic advantages? This traumatic event causes Natalie to open up to Ryan and Alex in one key scene. Then Ryan’s attendance at a family wedding causes him to question the solitary life on the road he has been living.

Clooney is always enjoyable in these roles as lawyer or corporate hatchet man. The film addresses the pain of the current wave of layoffs due to the recession. So this is not an up lifting film just as director Jason Reitman’s previous film Juno about teen pregnancy wasn’t either. It is just an observation on reality. Films like this tend to be favorites of professional critics but less so with the public. It’s just a bit depressing for the holiday season. But, it is an Oscar contender for 2010. Ho, ho, ho!

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