- The Washington Times - Friday, December 4, 2009

It’s hard to say which aspect of “Up in the Air” will strike a more resonant chord with American audiences: that the lead character fires people for a living or that this master downsizer lives an unanchored life disconnected from family and devoid of friends and neighbors.

As the unemployment rate spikes above 10 percent and layoff announcements continue relentlessly, people surely will be intrigued by the humanizing face that Ryan (George Clooney) puts on his unenviable job. He travels the country telling people that they’re about to be unplugged from the thing that, in many instances, gives their life meaning.

Ryan’s a smooth operator, a talker who puts just enough of the human touch into his job. He understands that a little compassion and a gentle shove are key to making a firing run smoothly. It’s a knowledge that upstart Natalie (Anna Kendrick) lacks: She proposes radically transforming the company by cutting travel costs and performing the sackings via videophone. Ryan’s boss, Craig (Jason Bateman) goes for Natalie’s plan and sends the two on the road together so she can learn the ropes.

The prospect of being grounded and tied to a desk in the home office turns Ryan’s life and assumptions upside down. His whole existence is based on being disconnected from home, traveling from airport to airport so frequently that his Omaha, Neb., studio apartment feels more like another hotel suite than a lived-in domicile. How will he fill that emptiness now that he must confront it?

Perhaps with the company of a fellow traveler, another frequent-flying Elite Status junkie like Alex (Vera Farmiga). Connecting in a hotel bar over a discussion of their mileage accounts and hectic travel schedules, Ryan and Alex seem perfect for each other. They hook up in various cities when their schedules intersect and grow to care for each other despite the no-strings relationship on which they’ve agreed.

Ryan even brings Alex to his youngest sister’s wedding, and it’s here that his unrooted existence is at its most striking: Alienated from the family he’s failed to stay in touch with over the years, Ryan comes to realize that the lone-wolf path he has chosen for himself might be emptier than he ever imagined.

Mr. Clooney is perfect in the role of Ryan: aloof without seeming uncaring, roguish without being threatening, lost but with a veneer of control. It’s the role he was born to play. Miss Farmiga and Miss Kendrick are similarly good as Ryan’s mirror and foil, respectively.

Director Jason Reitman has kicked off his career with a bang: All three of his features have knocked the socks off critics and audiences alike. “Thank You for Smoking” (2006) was a smart and incisive look at fatherhood through the prism of tobacco lobbying, while his 2007 follow-up, “Juno,” was a surprise nominee for the best-picture Oscar.

With “Up in the Air,” Mr. Reitman has managed an impressive twofer rare in modern cinema: It’s both a timeless examination of an oft-ignored personal quandary and a very timely examination of a country in flux, one uncertain of its future place in the world.

★★★½
TITLE: “Up in the Air”
RATING: R (language and some sexual content)
CREDITS: Directed by Jason Reitman, written by Mr. Reitman and Sheldon Turner
RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes
WEB SITE: https://www.theupintheairmovie.com/
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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