2009 / Best Actor / Best Director / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actress

Film #492: Up in the Air (2009)

As promised we continue the blog with two films involving George Clooney the first of which sees him star in the lead role. That film is Up in the Air, the film which earned Clooney his second Best Actor nomination and was possibly the film that capitalised on his old-school movie star charm.

Up in the Air is directed and co-written by Jason Reitman who we first met when he helmed Juno with this film sharing a similar tone with his previous Oscar winner. Just like with Juno, Up in the Air deals with quite a serious subject matter in this case mass redundancies; quite a pressing topic during the recession in the late noughties. The film sees Clooney play Ryan Bingham, a man who fires people for a living and spends most of his time in planes going from different destinations in America. Ryan’s life is devoted to racking up 10 million air miles and to presenting his self-help course known as ‘the empty backpack’. Up in the Air sees Ryan experiencing two changes in his life, firstly the prospect that he made be grounded and sent back to his office in Omaha. This is due to the fact that whiz kid recruit Natalie has set up a new video conferencing firing system which enables all employees to do their job from the office. Annoyed at this idea, Ryan takes Natalie on the road in an attempt to show her that firing people isn’t as simple as she believes. At the same time Ryan encounters Alex, who is also a frequent flyer and the two share a mutual attraction as they marvel at each other’s air miles. As the film progresses the commitment-phobic Ryan realises that he might be falling for Alex in a big way. However, in a similar manner to Juno, Up in the Air doesn’t finish in the way you think it might and instead there are a few twists littered before the finale.

Whilst promoting Up in the Air, Reitman said that he wanted to make Ryan a likeable character who fires people for a living and to do that he had to cast the most charming actor possible. It’s Clooney’s charm that makes the film in my opinion and in particular it’s the fact that he’s now an ageing heartthrob that gives Ryan that extra bit of sympathy. Clooney is great at delivering Reitman and Shelton Turner’s fast-paced dialogue and is equally adept at presenting the plot of the film without his lines every feeling particularly expositional. Clooney is fantastically supported by Vera Farmiga as Alex, who more than holds her own in his company and the two form a believable chemistry throughout the film. Similarly great is Anna Kendrick who gave a breakthrough turn as the ambitious but insecure Natalie whose relationship with Ryan is equally as important as his romance with Alex. Reitman added a tinge of realism to the piece by interviewing numerous people who had recently been made redundant and adding their experiences into the film. Reitman asked them to think back to when they were let go and so their responses to Natalie and Ryan’s appearance feel totally natural. Juno’s JK Simmons also gives a memorable if brief turn as one of the fired employees in a pivotal scene in which Ryan demonstrates to Natalie that the job isn’t as easy as she initially believed. Everything about Up in the Air is well-styled from the business suits that the characters don down to the loyalty cards that turn both Ryan and Alex on. If I were to have one criticism of the film it would be that the pace dips briefly when Ryan and Alex attend his sister’s wedding however the subsequent final act of Up in the Air more than makes up for it. Despite being nominated for six awards at the Oscars, including honours for the three lead performers, Up in the Air failed to secure one win. This is a shame as I feel it’s an incredibly relevant film with three fantastic performances and a brilliant director at the helm.


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