Saturday, February 21, 2015

Up In The Air Review (Classic Write-Up)

An Air-Raising Adventure
I've always liked George Clooney, but watching Up In The Air for the first time this evening allowed me a chance to realize what exactly makes me gravitate towards the guy. Here's a shocking twist: Clooney has charm, charisma, good looks, a dapper personality and a persona that exudes confidence. But he uses those aspects of his personalities in his films not in roles covered in poorly executed storytelling tropes, but to uncover the vulnerabilities of the characters he portrays, and that's never more true than in this 2009 Jason Reitman feature.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) fires people. Plain and simple. He travels around the country telling people some of the worst news they'll hear in their lives, and as one might imagine, this kind of occupation takes him all across the country. A live of relentless travel keeps him away from home, but that's just how Ryan likes it. No commitment, nothing to tie him down. Attachments? Those are for other people....or so he thinks.

There's a time for subtlety, and believe you me, Up In The Air has plenty of moments where it uses that approach to fantastic results. But there's also times to be upfront, to just have characters spout out their inner thoughts. There's really no better opportunity to utilize that sort of tactic then when you have George Clooney at your disposal, whose vocals make every word he spouts riveting (imagine if his directing of The Monuments Men had been a tenth this effective!). These monologues help get inside Ryan's mind, and they;re bolstered by their sharp writing, which comes courtesy of a script from Jason Reitman (who also directs) and Sheldon Turner.

The duo write up a script that pairs Ryan up primarily with two ladies that give him some new perspective on life; Alex (Vera Farmiga) and Natalie (Anna Kendrick). Alex is, as she puts it, "[Ryan], but with a vagina" and their dynamic starts out as entertaining, but also manages to become more than a bit heartbreaking by the time her storyline's conclusion arrives. Natalie provides moments of introspectiveness with the dynamic between her and Ryan, her more optimistic and hopeful outlook directly clashing with his introverted tendencies.

Kendrick plays up the role fantastically, holding her own against Clooney and making every step of her characters journey thoughtful on some level. A roster of talented supporting actors (Jason Bateman, Sam Elliot, Zach Galifianakis and the always enjoyable J.K. Simmons) also turn in memorable roles, but I was particularly impressed by the employees Ryan and Natalie fire in their work. These scenes are played in a suitably understated manner, with just the overwhelming emotions of the ex-workers playing out in these sequences to gripping effect.

Potent stuff, the kind of resonant content that Up In The Air thrives on. The film doesn't flinch at dishing out more melancholy material, especially towards the films conclusion when it begins to twist with audience expectations for how the story might finish. It's great to see a well-written movie utilize Clooney's talent in such a prosperous manner, but I'm ecstatic to say he's not the only element firing on all cylinders in this thoughtful story.

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