Thursday, August 5, 2010

Tragic and Phenomenal: Up in the Air Review

A truly wonderful acting trio.
When most people think of airports, it isn’t a particularly pleasant thought; germs, crowds, weather delays, artificial…. everything. That isn’t the case for Up in the Air’s Ryan Bingham (George Clooney). To him, the airport is home. As he says in his opening monologue, ”To know me is to fly with me.” Bingham works for a company that gets hired by other companies to do layoffs, and is constantly flying all across the country to do so. Up in the Air is more than just a commentary on America’s current economic standing, though. It can be classified as neither a tragedy nor a comedy, but is filled with both. The film criticizes big business, emphasizes the importance of individual relationships, and highlights our country’s declining economy; and it does it all with a smile.

Everything in Up in the Air is very tidy, so to speak, and is very up front about it. The music isn’t overbearing, nor is it non-existent. The cinematography, other than one character-changing scene near the end, is straightforward and direct. Even the dialogue, while pleasantly witty and engaging, is rather matter-of-fact. None of that in any way detracts from the film, however. If anything, it makes the idea of solitude and isolation more potent.

Clooney is to acting what Daniel Plainview is to oil; he dominates the field. That being said, he does not in any way outclass his co-stars, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. All 3 deliver powerful, Oscar-nominated performances. Clooney’s character is suave, businesslike, sarcastic, and cynical. In addition to his firing job, Bingham delivers “inspirational” speeches called “What’s in your backpack?” Essentially, he tells people how great it is to leave behind everything (from knick-knacks to photos to cars to houses to relationships) and live a life of freedom. Farmiga’s character, Alex Goran, describes herself as “Like you [Bingham], only with a vagina.” I couldn’t put it better myself. She has a similar lifestyle to Bingham in that she’s always in the air. They develop a casual sexual relationship and, naturally, their relationship (or lack thereof) progresses. On the other end of the spectrum is Kendrick’s character, Natalie Keener. Keener is an ambitious 23 year old just out of Cornell who has an idea to revolutionize the company. She wants to take the employees out of the air and start firing people via webcam from the headquarters in Omaha. Their boss, Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman) is all for it, as it cuts costs by 85%. Naturally, Bingham objects, since he loves his lifestyle of constant travel and doesn’t know how else to live. Gregory humors Bingham and lets him take Keener out on the road for a little bit to show her what firing people is really like; it isn’t something that can be done on a computer screen.

The strenuous Bingham – Keener relationship gradually grows into one of tolerance, and eventually mutual respect. Keener recognizes the sheer brutality of the industry she unwittingly entered (turns out she had followed a boy to Omaha), and Bingham learns some important lessons on relationships from her. The film, with the help of 3rd tier acting, does a brilliant job of showing Bingham’s development from a cynic of love, and relationships in general, to a captive of it. It’s an intriguing, amusing, and above all, frustrating relationship to watch play out.

Director Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking, Juno) pulls off a gem with Up in the Air, managing to make an otherwise horribly tragic film funny, witty, and enjoyable. By the time it’s over, you might not be sure how you feel about some of the characters, but you are sure of one thing: The only thing more tragic than Ryan Bingham are the lives of the countless people he’s had to lay off.

Official YAMB rating: Like

Ocean sheep,


  1. Two things:
    1. The "dominates the field" line is fantastic.
    2. Did you know the footage of most of the laid off workers are from people who actually were fired from their jobs? I thought that was a cool touch.
    - Nate S

  2. I think I heard that once, but I forgot about it. That is cool. And thanks.

  3. Ooooh! Paragraph indentations! Well done!
    In all seriousness though, I really liked this film and really liked the review!



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