Clooney soars in Reitman's 'Air'
Jason Reitman appears to be interested in offbeat characters,
and his interest continues to manifest itself in excellent films. He made his feature debut
with 2005's Thank You for Smoking, a hilarious film about the misadventures of a public relations
representative for a tobacco company.
He followed that with 2007's Juno, a funny and charming film about a smart-aleck 16-year-old who finds herself pregnant.
Now he brings us Ryan Bingham, an axe man, in Up in the Air. Much like Smoking's Nick Naylor, who had to spin the "positive side" of smoking, Bingham (George Clooney) has a really hard job: he flies around the country to fire people. He has plenty of work, too, since lots of corporate executives have people they want to fire and are too cowardly to actually tell their employees the bad news face-to-face.
The job keeps Bingham on airplanes constantly, and he doesn't really have any close friends outside of work. He's not very close with his family, either, but he seems to enjoy the solitude. This is all compromised by the arrival of the young Natalie Keener (the rising Anna Kendrick), a smart but naive young woman who has developed a video conferencing method of firing people that will eliminate the need for travel - and keep Bingham grounded in Omaha, Neb.
So Bingham, who believes that termination is something you do in person, takes Keener on one of his cross-country firing trips so she can get a feel for the job. He also crosses paths with Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga, The Departed), an attractive woman who is also on the road a lot.
What's interesting about Up in the Air is that it's completely unpredictable and avoids all the predictable formulaic pitfalls that it could have easily fallen into. It's really more of a character study that looks at Bingham, Keener and Goran, and Reitman is true to his characters. He's more interested in why they make some of the decisions they make than creating a feel-good holiday movie, and I enjoyed the unpredictability of these characters.
Air is also a relevant picture for the new decade, incorporating the current economic downturn into the film. Bingham's boss (Jason Bateman, Arrested Development) even points out that business is bad across most sectors of the country, and downsizing means good times if you're in the firing business. Reitman shows the reactions of many people who Bingham or Keener are terminating, adding a unique element for Clooney and Keener to react to.
All of the performances, and the jokes, are much more subtle than Reitman's other films. While Juno had plenty of zingers that you could relay to your friends, much of the humor in Air is of the "you had to be there" variety. It works, too, because it just wouldn't have meshed well with the Air's frequently melancholy tone or the quiet nature of these characters.
Clooney's performance, in particular, is incredibly natural and easy-going, which is harder to pull off than most people recognize. He has always reminded me a lot of Jimmy Stewart - a smooth, sophisticated leading man who can say a lot without saying much at all. This might be his best performance, though fans of Michael Clayton and Solaris (2002) might beg to differ.
This is also Reitman's best film and, I hope, another promising sign from a talented filmmaker.
Up in the Air is rated R for language and some sexual content. It is playing at the Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.