Up In The Air Review

Published 4 years ago by

Short Version: Up In The Air is a well-crafted and very timely piece of cinema. A sure contender in the coming Awards Season.

upintheair3 Up In The Air ReviewScreen Rant’s Kofi Outlaw reviews Up In The Air

Up In The Air is a film whose entire point can be discerned from its title. This new offering from Juno director Jason Reitman stars George Clooney as a man whose existence involves traveling the country airport to airport, essentially living “above” all that life presses upon the rest of us stuck below.

Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham, is a corporate ax man. Struggling companies hire men like Ryan to fire employees for them – a way of sparing cowardly bosses the inconvenience of actually having to face their crushed employees. With the economy in shambles, life is grand for the restless Ryan – he has plenty of axed employees to help “transition” all across America, meaning he can stay out on the road, free, flying high where he feels he belongs.

A monkey wrench gets thrown into Ryan’s frequent-flying lifestyle when young corporate shark Natalie (Anna Kendrick) sells Ryan’s boss (Jason Bateman) on a business model where ax men terminate employees over webcam, sparing the company the bill for all that costly traveling. Seeing his own profession (and lifestyle) facing the brink of extinction, Ryan convinces the boss that this young whipper-snapper Natalie needs a firsthand tour of the world she is so desperate to “streamline.” So off they go, old pro and young shark, flying into the failing heartland of America.

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The journey, of course, reveals new things about the travelers. Ryan has some wonderful “layovers” with Alex (Vera Farmiga), a fellow frequent-flyer elitist, and starts to wonder if his isolated life is truly worthwhile. Natalie goes out on the front lines, axing real flesh-and-blood employees face-to-face, and wonders if her cold ambition isn’t really hiding a soft heart. Ryan is soft in demeanor but slightly cold at heart and Natalie is his opposite; it’s a wonderful pairing. By the end, who can say what is what and what the future will hold? And therein lies, what I feel will be for many people, the make or break point of Up In The Air.

Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner’s adaptation of Walter Kim’s novel is masterful in its approach. There is a lot of heavy stuff going on in this film, yet the film itself manages to avoid being cheaply sentimental or emotionally manipulative. The scenes of Ryan and Natalie at work, firing people, contain montages of real Americans who have been “cast adrift” in the struggling economy. The impact of hearing and seeing real people vent their anger, fear and frustrations about the future hits with a sense of urgency, but also with a sense of real human dignity that is hard for Hollywood to mimic. Luckily, Reitman makes the wise choice of just laying things out there with a documentarian’s eye – this is what is going on, this is what it’s like out there right now – without preaching any gospel or trying to hang blame.

The two principal characters, Ryan and Natalie, are likewise drawn from the smart angle of two people sent out to deal with a mess that’s been made – without worrying about who made it. Stripped of cliched moral or ethical concerns, the film opens up a very fresh examination about how we deal with turmoil, fear and uncertainty as people, both externally (like concern for our jobs), or internally, primarily where our emotions and emotional connections are concerned.

up in the air Up In The Air Review

The principal cast in this film are excellent. George Clooney – in a brilliantly understated performance – never seems to shy away from the ever-present fact that aspects of his off-screen persona – his real-life attitudes toward marriage, for example – are being reflected in Ryan’s character. I’ll go so far as to say Clooney is brave in this film, for channeling  so much of his public swagger and gusto through Ryan, even when it’s being made clear during several of Up In The Air‘s most gut-wrenching (and beautifully understated) moments that Ryan is a man who has been believing in his own B.S. for far too long.

Anna Kendrick has already sparked a raging buzz for her turn as hot-shot Natalie, and rightfully so. She spends just about all of her screen time trading quips with one of the most charming and engaging leading men currently on the planet, and never once comes off looking like the new girl at school (unless her character is supposed to). In fact, Kendrick is pretty much a scene-stealer throughout the film – impressive achievement when acting against the likes of Clooney.

Vera Farmiga is as elusive, mysterious and  beautiful as ever in her role as Alex. Like her performance in The Departed, I never feel like I’ve gotten enough of her presence onscreen – but I’m certainly left  feeling like I want to see more of her in the future. Up In The Air also boasts some great cameos, including standout moments from J.K. Simmons (Juno), Zach Galifianakas (The Hangover) and Danny McBride (Tropic Thunder).

Jason Reitman once again deserves his sure-to-be-forthcoming award nominations for this film. From the opening credits sequence, which features a gorgeous mashup of pilot’s eye landscaping shots; to every richly colored scene; to the still, quiet and heavily weighted moments of human emotion, the direction here is tight and expertly controlled, yet still soft and subtle enough to make you forget you’re watching something that has been so carefully, masterfully, crafted. From start to finish, I was totally on board for this flight.

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The ending will be the dividing factor for this film, no doubt. I’m still wrestling with that ending and it is primarily why I can’t give Up In The Air five stars. Without spoiling anything, I’ll refer to what I said at the start: Up In The Air is a film whose entire point can be discerned from its title.

For those who like movies where good is rewarded, bad is punished and there is no such thing as moral or ethical gray – you will be upset by the end of this film, I won’t lie to you. For those of you who are of the opinion that the journey of life is never as simple as flying from point A to point B without delays, inclement weather, or cancellations, then be happy in the knowledge that there is a beautiful, timely film out there talking directly to you.

Our Rating:

4.5 out of 5
(Must-See)

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TAGS: 4 star movies, up in the air

22 Comments

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  1. Kofi excellent review once again with what seems to be a rewarding film. This surely has my ticket.

  2. Great review Kofi, I’ve had my eye on this one ever since I saw the trailer on apple. I enjoy Clooney in most of his roles and I’m sure this won’t be any different. When I saw the trailer it almost felt like it had a Soderburg vibe to it but I could be mistaken. Regardless I will end up catching this. I do wonder about the love interest between Clooney and the youngster. From the previews it just seems strange that these two have a connection even tho (realistically) they are years and years apart. I always find it sort of weird when an older guy has a relationship with such a young woman. Maybe its just me but I could be completely off I just a trailer…

  3. @ Fenix,

    You’ll be relieved to know that the relationship is more Father/Daughter or Big brother/little sister. Not at all romantic. It never once felt creepy like that scene in Juno with Ellen Page and Jason Bateman (still gives me the willies).

    Vera Farmiga is the love interest. There is a sequence of her, Clooney and Anna Kendrick (the youngster) out together and it definitely is that parents/child or older siblings/younger siblings dynamic.

    The steam is saved for the Clooney/Farmiga relationship.

  4. Seeing This on Saturday .
    I expect to enjoy as it as I am one of those who likes his movies shaded in gray .

  5. What, no explosions, CGI, heads being decapitated, lasers, aliens, etc… :-P

    Sounds good. May have to check it out after Avatar.

  6. Can’t wait to see it, Clooney is perfect for this role, he will definitely get nominated for an Oscar. Though competition (Morgan Freeman, Colin Firth, Daniel Day-Lewis)!
    I an rooting for George!

  7. Great review, Kofi!

  8. Ok great, thanks for clearing that up for me Kofi! And yes that weirdness you spoke of in Juno is sorta what came to mind when I was writing that. Extremely awkward scene when I watched that with all my buddies in my dorm… Glad the director decided to leave that out.

  9. I’m really looking forward to this one, will be a nice change of pace from big effects movies.

    Clooney is always worth going to see, the guy is in a class of his own, and the smallness of the story appeals to me.

  10. YES! Thank you for the review! “In Screen Rant we TRUST” This has just assured a couple of tix for us.

  11. I Saw it .
    I thought it was a very good film .
    In the latest issue of Creative Screenwriting magazine which I read after seeing the film,
    Reitman explained his reasons for the ending.
    I have no problem with it.
    I will give you a hint.
    turns out is a fan of Warren Beattys Shampoo.

  12. It turns out Reitman is a fan of Warren Beattys Shampoo.

  13. Jason Reitman did well in casting. Anna Kendrick is amazing. I’ll admit the first movie I saw her in was “Twilight.” She reminded me of Kristen Wiig in “Knocked Up”… all passive aggressive and I loved it. She really shined in “Up in the Air.” She held her own against Clooney and Farmiga nicely.

    Vera Farmiga… I just love her. She plays a smart, sexy working woman who can hold her own in this male world that she works in. She emulates so much with a slight look or a tilt of her head. I agree that I always want to see more of her…same as I felt in “The Departed.”

    The story at times seems…not predictable but as if you could theorize what comes next. But you’re not quite right. You could be right to a point as to what happens physically but you will be wrong when it comes to how the characters react emotionally. In that sense it kept me on the edge of my chair.

    I’m glad this movie is nominated. It seems more comedic than best drama nominees have in the past.

  14. Nice review! I saw this movie recently and actually liked it. The acting is solid, and the story is relevant to the present context. There are some really great touching moments on this movie. Overall, this is a pretty entertaining movie.

  15. This is one Ive been unable to really form a yay or nay opinion on; it teeters back and forth for me.
    On one hand the whole aspect of this plot glorifies the ax-men by using bobblehead Clooney being his usual overly confident “cool” self, yet he does at a few moments of the film show some slight bits of empathy and ends up really being the good guy of the consulting company compared to the lot of them.

    No happiness in it either, this thing was dour and depressing. Interesting? Sure. But this is no pursuit of happyness nor does it convey a moral or tie up the story in the end – it just lingers off at the same pace it started at.

    Im not saying I hate it, but between 1 and 10, I’d only be able to say it’s a 5. Watchable and semi-interesting.

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