Introduction

Up in the Air

Up in the Air
  • Country of production: USA
  • Year: 2009
  • Certificate: 15
  • Director: Jason Reitman
  • Running time: 109 minutes
  • Official website: www.upintheairmovie.co.uk
 

is hotly tipped by critics for Oscar success. A slick romantic comedy, it is also very poignant and ‘one of those rare mainstream Hollywood pictures that addresses contemporary issues gracefully' (Tim Grierson, Screen International). GEORGE CLOONEY stars as Ryan Bingham, a man hired by companies to tell their employees they are fired. Much of his time is spent flying back and forth across the States and he lives for the perks of this life, avoiding meaningful human connections (literally letting people go). He even gives self-help lectures about travelling light: "Relationships are the heaviest components in your life."

Both his emotional detachment and his own job satisfaction are threatened when two women enter his life and provoke some rare human interaction. He starts a (no-strings) liaison with like-minded fellow frequent flyer Alex Goran (VERA FARMIGA). "Think of me as you with a vagina," she tells him. Then young go-getter Natalie Keener (ANNA KENDRICK) persuades his boss that Ryan's job could be done more efficiently by videophone, eliminating the need to travel. The pair are then sent off to work together so that he can teach her the ropes.

Director JASON REITMAN (Oscar-nominated for his last film, Juno) adapted the story from a novel by Walter Kirn. He says the film is about how the more we travel and use technology to communicate, the more connected we seem to be, but the fewer real relationships we actually have. The lead character spending his life in airports reflects that malaise. "You can go into an airport anywhere in the world and instantly know where everything is; they have the same shops, the same restaurants, the same newspapers. We're comfortable everywhere, yet nowhere really seems to be home."

The film's handle on the zeitgeist is underlined by the use of people who had recently been laid off to depict most of those seen being fired in the movie. The film-makers placed ads posing as a crew looking to record the effects of the recession for a documentary. Those who responded were asked to treat the camera as if it were the person who had fired them.

Re-view

Up in the Air

GOOD TO GO

Up in the Air makes it look easy. Not just in its casual and apparently effortless excellence, but in its ability to blend entertainment and insight, comedy and poignancy, even drama and reality, things that are difficult by themselves but a whole lot harder in combination. This film does all that and never seems to break a sweat.'

(KENNETH TURAN, LOS ANGELES TIMES)

Keeping the story air-borne

Writer and director Jason Reitman successfully juggles the numerous disparate elements and narrative ideas contained in the film so that it is always a coherent package. Neil Smith in Total Film thought it a sign of Reitman's mounting confidence that he is able to deliver exactly the kind of polished vehicle Clooney's fans expect, while maintaining the story's sardonic tone. ‘Reitman has mixed drama and humour in his earlier work, but he's never achieved such a tricky balance as he does here, keeping Ryan and Alex's relationship buoyant and sophisticated, while eliciting real emotion from scenes of workers learning that they've been terminated' (Tim Grierson, Screen International).

Reitman keeps the story from becoming enmired in moral redemption and sentimentality (even when Ryan returns home for a family wedding) by introducing twists along the way, ‘tweaking comfortable outcomes and throwing us off balance' (Ian Nathan, Empire).

Firing gun for hire

The character of Ryan was written with George Clooney in mind, and he does seem perfect for the part. ‘Clooney has scarcely ever been more magnetic onscreen than he is here... Clooney owns his role in the way first-rate film stars can, so infusing the character with his own persona that everything he does seems natural and right' (Todd McCarthy, Variety).

We admire the fact that Ryan is so good at his job and so comfortable with his life, even if we don't like either the job or the life. ‘Instead of deploring Ryan, Mr Clooney delights in him, and we do too. Instead of belabouring Ryan's fateful flaw, the actor invests him with all the elation and formidable charm at his command. He creates a contemporary character we haven't seen before, a blithely self-ironic spirit who knows, but doesn't care, that a crucial piece of himself has gone missing' (Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal).

Clooney has often been compared with Cary Grant. Philip Kemp in Sight & Sound likened him in this film to Grant's character in North by Northwest (1959), the hollow, affectless adman Roger O Thornhill ("The ‘O' stands for nothing").

Not only does George Clooney ‘juggle self-reliant charmer and dead-eyed sociopath with remarkable dexterity' (Tom Huddleston, Time Out), he also achieves a balance between professional smoothness and vulnerability. ‘Yes, for much of the time he does the familiar silver-haired fox routine, espousing his "no commitments" lifestyle with a convincing dreamy-eyed smile. But there is a certain aching sadness that permeates his entire performance... suggesting deeply satisfying and hitherto unexplored depths in Clooney's range' (Kevin Maher, The Times).

Co-pilots

Vera Farmiga is suave and seductive as his soul-less mate, Alex. Despite the superficial basis for their attraction, they establish a terrific rapport that is both sexy and touching. ‘These feel like adults with real mileage on their clocks' (Tim Grierson, Screen International). Several critics saw her as Rosalind Russell to Clooney's Cary Grant in His Girl Friday.

Anna Kendrick as the precocious yet vulnerable Natalie has also been tipped for awards success. She is ‘a brittle joy' (Tim Robey, The Daily Telegraph). With ‘her ponytail swinging like an axe... she's a monster for our times: a presumed human resources expert who, having come of age in front of a computer, has no grasp of the human' (Manohla Dargis, The New York Times).

Also in the frame for recognition is editor Dana E Glauberman for the dazzling opening titles and montages of Clooney packing a case and cruising through airport security. These are deployed to draw in the audience, ‘before whipping back the curtain and exposing the emptiness that lies behind this enticing veneer' (Tom Huddleston, Time Out).

 
Pro-files

Up in the Air

GEORGE CLOONEY

RYAN BINGHAM

George Clooney is currently Hollywood's finest model of the late-blossoming star. Born into a showbusiness family (his mother was a beauty queen, his father a journalist and TV presenter, his aunt singer Rosemary Clooney), George enjoyed only small-scale success in his acting career before being cast in ER in 1994 aged 33, a decidedly late break for a heartthrob.

His first major film role, in From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), established his crossover potential and he was propelled straight into the A-list, rapidly shooting a romcom opposite Michelle Pfeiffer (One Fine Day, 1996) and taking the leads in a major franchise and an action blockbuster (Batman & Robin and The Peacemaker, both 1997). None of these genre efforts was a huge success, but Clooney was already demonstrating serious talent working with auteur directors such as Steven Soderbergh (Out of Sight, 1998), Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line, 1998), David O Russell (Three Kings, 1999) and the Coen brothers, in whose O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) - as well as Intolerable Cruelty (2003) and Burn After Reading (2008) - he demonstrated a willingness to make himself look ridiculous. His collaboration with Soderbergh also continued with roles in Ocean's Eleven (2001) and its two sequels, as well as Solaris (2002) and The Good German (2006), and the joint founding of production company Section Eight in 2000.

As well as producing numerous pictures, Clooney has established himself as a director, delivering the tricksy biopic of TV personality Chuck Barris Confessions of a Dangerous Mind in 2002, the atmospheric McCarthy-era journalism drama Good Night, and Good Luck in 2005 (for which he was nominated for Best Director and Best Screenplay Oscars) and the period screwball comedy Leatherheads in 2008.

His liberal politics have informed some of his career choices, such as his choice of subject matter with Good Night, and Good Luck and his role in oil-industry thriller Syriana (2005), for which he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and Golden Globe, and his campaigning work for Darfur.

Clooney may have been late to the party, but with roles this past year that have included a skittish, possibly psychic former soldier in The Men Who Stare at Goats, the debonair, self-assured lead in Wes Anderson's animated Fantastic Mr Fox and a one-episode reprise of Dr Doug Ross, the ER part that made his name, he shows every sign of sticking around.

VERA FARMIGA

ALEX GORAN

Having worked regularly in theatre, television and film since 1996, Vera Farmiga came to greater prominence with roles in the remake of The Manchurian Candidate (2004) and then in 2006 both Anthony Minghella's Breaking and Entering, as an Eastern European prostitute, and Martin Scorsese's The Departed, as the police psychiatrist who begins a relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio's undercover officer. She has also played the parent of unnerving children in the suspense dramas Joshua (2007) and Orphan (2009), and a Nazi wife in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008).

ANNA KENDRICK

NATALIE KEENER

Known to teenage vampire fans for her role as high school gossip Jessica Stanley in the Twilight saga, Anna Kendrick also has a track record on Broadway, becoming the second-youngest Tony nominee ever for her part in High Society - and in indie cinema - Camp (2003) and Rocket Science (2007). She will soon be seen in Scott Pilgrim vs the World from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright.

JASON BATEMAN

CRAIG GREGORY

Jason Bateman has been acting professionally since his early teens, with regular roles on numerous American TV movies and shows, especially sitcoms. His starring role in Teen Wolf Too in 1987 was followed by steady work rather than breakthrough success, but his casting in the central role of Michael Bluth in the superlative Fox sitcom Arrested Development (2003-6) led to parts in such films as Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004), Juno (2007, also for Up in the Air director Jason Reitman) and Hancock (2008), with Will Smith and Charlize Theron.

AMY MORTON

KARA BINGHAM

Although she has appeared in such films as Straight Talk (1992), Falling Down (1993) and 8MM (1999), Amy Morton is primarily a stage actor, most closely associated with Chicago's internationally acclaimed Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Her recent roles have included Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which transferred to the Barbican Centre, and a Tony-nominated performance in August: Osage County, which played at the National Theatre.

MELANIE LYNSKEY

JULIE BINGHAM

Of the two unknown teenagers cast in Peter Jackson's outré murder fantasia Heavenly Creatures (1994), it was perhaps unsurprising that the one playing the glamorous blonde - Kate Winslet - went on to greater recognition than the one playing the shy, frumpy brunette. But Lynskey, a Kiwi, was named best actress in that year's New Zealand Film and TV Awards and went on to appear in Ever After (1998) with Drew Barrymore, Sweet Home Alabama (2002) with Reese Witherspoon and Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers (2006). She has recently appeared in Sam Mendes's Away We Go and Steven Soderbergh's The Informant! (both 2009).

DANNY McBRIDE

JIM MILLER

After making a relatively low-key debut in David Gordon Green's All the Real Girls (2003), Danny McBride established himself as a comic beloved by Hollywood insiders with his 2006 martial arts farce The Foot Fist Way. Collaborations followed with Judd Apatow, who produced Pineapple Express (2008), which Green directed; Ben Stiller, who directed Tropic Thunder (2008); and Will Ferrell, star of Land of the Lost (2009). McBride has also appeared in Hot Rod (2007), Superbad (2007) and Drillbit Taylor (2008), and his HBO series about a former baseball star, Eastbound & Down, has also attracted praise.

J. K. SIMMONS

BOB

Simmons has also worked with director Jason Reitman before, appearing in Thank You for Smoking (2005) and playing the lead character's father in Juno (2007), and with George Clooney, appearing alongside him in the Coen brothers' Burn After Reading (2008). He was also in the Coens' remake of The Ladykillers (2004). He is probably best known for his portrayal of Daily Bugle editor J Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man movies (2002, 2004, 2007).

SAM ELLIOTT

MAYNARD FINCH

Known for his cowboy/biker style, Sam Elliott's debut was a small role in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). After appearing in TV shows such as Mission: Impossible, Gunsmoke and Hawaii Five-O, he had memorable roles in Mask (1985), Road House (1989) and Tombstone (1993), and satirised his own cowboy image in The Big Lebowski (1998). Recent films include We Were Soldiers (2002), Hulk (2003) and, for Up in the Air director Jason Reitman, Thank You for Smoking (2005).

JASON REITMAN

DIRECTOR / PRODUCER / SCREENPLAY
JASON REITMAN
DIRECTOR JASON REITMAN

The son of director Ivan Reitman (Ghost Busters, Kindergarten Cop), Jason Reitman is just 33 years old. He premiered his first short at Sundance aged 19 and made his first feature aged 27. Thank You for Smoking (2005) was a relatively low-budget satire on the tobacco industry that did well at the box office and was nominated for two Golden Globes. His follow-up, Juno, was the indie breakthrough hit of 2007, making stars of teenage actor Ellen Page and writer Diablo Cody, and earning the director an Oscar nomination. Reitman has also directed episodes of Saturday Night Live and the American version of The Office.

 
Cinemas

Up in the Air

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