Like it or not - and this reviewer, for all his fear of flying, absolutely hates it - we've become a nation of aviary commuters, criss-crossing the country on plane after plane, trip after trip, as if gravity were only ever a suggestion of physics. Most people, however, would probably classify a half-dozen trips a year as fairly frequent flying, and for a majority of the population, that's probably appropriate, but Jason Reitman's new drama Up in the Air chooses to examine that new breed of corporate employee who's on the road and in the air 300 days out of the year's 365. There are men without homes. Their living room is an airport terminal; their kitchen, a hotel restaurant; their bedroom, an aisle seat at 35,000 feet. Their friends and family are security guards and ticket agents. Their net worth is measured in accumulated sky miles. Their lives, in as much as they have one, are lived almost entirely in lay-over's.
George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, one such soul lost happily in the no-strings lifestyle of his corporate existence - or at least he believes. Employed by a company that is sub-contracted to essentially fire the employees of other companies in order to minimize risk and liability, Bingham is a man who splits his time between pink slips and boarding passes, lay-off's and lay-over's. It's a life he seems to prefer, a job which allows him to ignore the responsibilities and attachments so often associated with growing up, or older. He's efficient, yet sensitive to the nature of his work and as the film opens, he begins an airport-by-airport, hotel-by-hotel affair with Vera Farmiga's charmingly seductive Alex Goran. Herself a fellow corporate gypsy, their pre-scheduled meetings begin to suggest an honest connection that threatens the casual nature of their lives.
But there's no greater threat to Bingham than a new piece of software that allows his colleagues to fire far-off employees via web-cam. Objecting to the impersonal nature of virtual dismissal - but really concerned that he might actually be grounded - Bingham takes the program's young, fresh-faced developer, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), on the road with him to witness the profoundly personal experience of showing a real life human being the end of their present career. It's a job that connects rather squarely with the current economy and all of the fury and firings illustrated by the film ultimately feel like genuine, stomach-churning reflections of the real-life dismissals taking place all across the country these days. Some much-deserved kudos belong to those actors and non-actors who play, in these brief inserts, the many people who Bingham and Keener are forced to let go. Their anger and sadness, their disbelief and betrayal, read across their faces, young and old alike, and the audience can't help but sympathize.
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