Review: Up in the Air a Timely Treat

Up in the Air is a solid film with impeccable timing. Though we never really get to know the main character, and the focus of the film is largely diluted, the whole thing still comes off as refreshing and innovative. That's the trick of social relevance, and director Jason Reitman has pulled it off.

George Clooney plays a consultant charged with traveling the country to lay people off. He's the bearer of severance packages, the seller of your "new" (though involuntary) life. Clooney portrays himself as a comforting assassin: you walk in a room, he's there, he let's you down easy. It's all very saccharine and sterile, this pushing you off a cliff. Clooney himself flies many hundreds of thousands of miles per year, and he delights in the frequent flyer/preferred guest bubble he's created for himself. He hates home, he loves to be on the move. Miami, Tulsa, Kansas City, Milwaukee, wherever there are folk to be fired, you'll find Clooney. And he's excellent at his job; experience has given him a sheen of "Though we've just met, I care deeply about your plight" that he uses on every single soul. There are some great three-minute moments from those about to be let go; Zach Galifianakis and JK Simmons give lovely, though short, performances.

This is Jason Reitman's first film since Juno, and it's easy to see why actors and audiences are attracted to his visual eye. The two films are extremely disparate, one about a teen pregnancy, the other about Clooney's axeman, but Reitman's hands-off worldview shines through. He brings realistic portrayals of people to life, though of course this version is missing Diablo Cody's signature twang, forgoing quirk for simpler (though just as authentic) moments.

Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga do the rest of the heavy lifting in Up in the Air. Kendrick is a hard-charging strategist within Clooney's company -- her big idea is to fire people over the Internet, no traveling required! Vera Farmiga is a gal Clooney meets while on the move (of course). They compare loyalty programs and swap travel war stories. She's instantly attractive, her wry smiles and savvy business attire the natural counterpoint to Clooney's "on the go" persona. Jason Bateman has a nice turn as Clooney's boss, and no one does dry and biting quite like Bateman. He's a young master.

Getting laid off is a psychically damaging disaster, so it's probably just as well that this film focuses on Clooney's experience instead. He travels through the world, racking up miles, doing his job to the best of his ability, leaving carnage in his wake. In one sense, this is a very clean movie, mimicking the way modern airports feel, though beneath the surface you can detect the subtle horror of the proceedings. Reitman and company are to be lauded for broaching this delicate subject at all -- an economy in shambles -- though occasionally they go at it in a sideways manner. If you're willing to listen, Up in the Air is a film with things to say. That feeling you get when you're up there on an airplane, loneliness mixed with jagged self-determination, staring out at the world from behind your inch of plastic.

Grade: B