George Clooney's Ryan Bingham is a 'lone wolf' smoothie with a rough-and-tumble job - he's hired by corporate pansies without the guts or the personable mannerisms and geniality to fire their employees. Most people wouldn't last a day, but the job suits Bingham like a glove. Why?
Well, for one, he's an opposer to meaningful human connections and has no need for them, so he says. ("Some animals were meant to carry each other to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star-crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans...we're sharks.") That's an excerpt from one of his many motivational speeches, which in fact, are not motivational at all. The point of the talk is to use a backpack as a metaphor for your life's weight. Ryan Bingham's backpack, symbolized by his neat, tidy, accommodating travel case, is close to empty.
Secondly, Ryan's self-proclaimed philosophy of nomadic movement in an attempt to free one's self of excess human connection is exhibited by his love of flying. ("To know me is to fly with me.") He zips through the checkout lines with his privileged access cards and gets through the security checkpoints as rhythmically as a dance. His current life goal is to obtain 10,000,000 frequent-flier miles simply because he would only be the seventh person on the planet to do it. It's the echelon of elite status.
So who better to approach thousands of grown adults at their most vulnerable and emotionally fragile (the moments right after being given the axe) than a man who values and approaches human connection as if it were a nuisance and non-essential?
This of course, is the big gist of Jason Reitman's epically topical tale of human interaction and life-worth. Does Ryan's way of life prove valuable in such a chaotic economical climate or will he eventually by in need of a change? Such questions are necessary, especially after he strikes an inferno-like relationship with a fellow airport monk in Alex (played by the wonderful Vera Farmiga).
There's also the excellent Anna Kendrick as Natalie, a hot-off-the-presses Cornell grad who decides to face-lift the fundamental business model of Clooney's agency with her impulsive, yet money-friendly plan to incorporate a video web-chat network to replace physical interaction in the workplace.
Adapted from the Walter Kirn novel by Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air is such a densely weaved story done in a gentle, seemingly innocuous way that it's hard to catch onto its wavelength right away. It's whip-smart funny, sexy and sometimes sleek, but it's mostly keenly perceptive, achingly human and undeniably well-timed. The reason that the film will last beyond the years and likely take home a few Oscars in March is because it's about right now.
When you think about it, not many films have even attempted, much less succeeded, in having the guts and the finely-tuned ears and knowing eyes to capture the feel and the mood and the pulse of an ongoing era as expertly as Jason Reitman has done here. It's a career watermark and a far cry from comparatively flimsy Thank You For Not Smoking and Juno.
There are multiple shots here where we have our protagonist, Ryan Bingham, staring at a vista of human population - whether it be a map of the U.S. on a PowerPoint slide or a fake travelogue at his sister's wedding. Whether it's a top-down cityscape from an airplane window or a color-coded schedule of outgoing/incoming flights. These glimpses slowly suggest uneasiness within Ryan and his initial quest for detachment before it eventually evolves into loneliness.
Up in the Air is about many things, but it's mainly about finding solace in life during a time of crisis - whether that manifests itself as finding a companion or a job, it's clear that the film's title hints at a broad generalization of a nation of people wallowing in a world of unpredictability, uncertainty and unfulfillment. It captures this world, our world, to perfection.