January can only mean one thing in the film world: Oscar Buzz. No, that’s not a marketing ploy used by the marketing team of Toy Story, it’s films released of a certain nature to try and nab the “Best Picture” Oscar. Usually dramas, these films vary from the overhyped dross (Slumdog Millionaire)to the genuinely great movies that define a cinematic year. Up In The Air falls into the latter category.
The story follows Ryan Bingham, played brilliantly by George Clooney, as a “corporate downsizing expert”: basically, his job is to fire people from theirs when the boss is too cowardly to do it themselves. He’s an expert in the field, and loves to travel. He moves across the country extensively, and borders on the obsessive with the collection of loyalty cards he has collected over the years. His ultimate goal though is to collect 10 million air miles and the rewards that come with it. While travelling, he meets another frequent flyer named Alex (Vera Farmiga) and they begin a casual relationship.
Everything is going swimmingly for Bingham, until he’s called back to the head office in Omaha. There, he is introduced to an ambitious new worker called Natalie who has persuaded the boss to try out a new method of firing people: over a webcam connection. That way, it will cut the company’s travel costs by 85%. Ryan doesn’t take this news too well, and protests to the point where his boss makes him take Natalie on a few face-to-face firings. on these travels, Natalie realises there is more to firing people than telling them they’re “let go” from their job, whilst through Alex Ryan learns there is more to life than casual relationships and air miles.
I know I mentioned it earlier, but Clooney is absolutely brilliant in this. I have yet to see all the other Best Actor Oscar contenders, but my money’s on him. Being fired isn’t the most pleasurable experience, but if it was my turn to face the chop and Clooney was the guy who’d do it, I actually dont think I’d mind that much; he slides through each scene with such charm it’s impossible not to like him, regardless of his profession. The chemistry between him and Farmiga is so realistic, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were an actual couple.
And that’s where the film succeeds: it’s so grounded in reality that you forget you’re watching a movie and believe these characters are real; you care about everything that happens to them.The events are plausible and not exaggerated: there isn’t one scene where I thought “that would never happen..”. And the ending is so emotional that anyone who isn’t affected by it should check if they still have a heart. A conventional Hollywood ending will not be found here.
But it’s not all drama and romance; there is plenty of comedy here. But again, the comedy comes from naturally flowing conversation rather than forced set pieces. In relation to the comedy, there are “reaction shots” of the employees whilst they are being fired. Filmed through the point of view of Bingham, a few of these shots open the film. At first they are mildly amusing, but the further into the film we get, I realised they are no laughing matter. They show people when they’re at their most vulnerable, and it shows. Not only have they lost their jobs, they have no stable income to pay for their mortgage, or supply for their children. Even with these minor characters who have less than a minute of screen time, the emotion in their performances is incredible.
Up In The Air is film that belongs to an elite group: indie films that are accessible to the Hollywood audience. It’s not a perfect film, and its very early days, but it certainly looks to be in my top 10 of 2010.