Film Review: UP IN THE AIR

Up in the Air
Directed by Jason Reitman
Written by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner based on the novel by Walter Kirn
Starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Amy Morton
Released Dec. 23, 2009
Running Time 109 minutes

This is one of the increasingly rare US movies that manages to say something important and still entertain. Recent American movies seem bent to do one or the other. We have movies about the horrors of war, capitalism, poverty, ecological disaster. Or we have movies designed as a pure diversion. Although I felt Clooney was slightly wrong in the part, it was still one of the best movies of the year.

PLOT: Ryan Bingham (Clooney) works for an organization that functions like a hitman in corporate downsizing. He doesn’t particularly enjoy sitting across the desk from someone who’s just been socked with the news of their termination, although he prides himself on doing it well. What he does enjoy is the carefree life his profession allows him to live. His home is ‘up in the air,” the place he spends over three hundred days a year. He has few if any real attachments and this hotel/jet life speaks to some need in him.

He is not the only one leading this peripatetic life-Alex Goran (Farmiga) is also on the move in her job and they hookup where there schedules intersect. They have agreed on a relationship with no strings, one which suits their lifestyles.

A young woman (Kendrick) comes to Ryan’s boss with a new idea. All of his corporate hitmen can be easily replaced by a web-chat version of the termination notice. The savings will be considerable. (Of course, she is now the hitman whose invention will eventually terminate Ryan). Ryan takes her on the road to persuade her that termination via web-chats is even more heartless than termination via Ryan. We now have the road movie “up in the air” as the duo touch down in various ports. Both learn something from the trip—but the movie manages to veer from being either preachy or predictable. (Some of the terminated employees were played by recently terminated employees in Detroit).

One caveat—Clooney is a little too slick for the part. It is hard to believe his apartment, even if only used a few days a year, would be so basic. It is hard to believe that the accumulation of miles he speaks about several times would mean much to him. He had no rapport either physically or emotionally with his family. You can’t buy the fact he was ever born into it.

But he has real chemistry with both actresses, real chemistry with the audience. Both women do an equally good job with their roles. It was a pleasure to watch a movie with intelligence, wit, a point.

Interesting to note, that two movies of late have dealt with how to deliver bad news. “The Messenger had a strict protocol too but no one suggested web chats.

Patti Abbott writes crime fiction short stories. She hosts a look at Forgotten Books every Friday with readers, writers and reviewers at She hopes you’ll join in.