Sunday, March 14, 2010

Up in the Air -- Review

Up in the Air is a frustrating movie. Frustrating because it starts off so strong then finds its comfort zone in being mediocre. Frustrating because it tells the story of characters who are, let's be honest, unlikeable -- yet it stars George Clooney, America's most charismatic living actor. You almost start to like the character he portrays, Ryan Bingham, and that's purely Clooney's doing, not the script's. I'm convinced that if anyone other than Clooney were cast in the lead, Bingham would have been perceived as a villain. Frustrating because it meanders; I don't recall another film running under two hours seeming so damn long. Frustrating because Vera Farmiga used a body double in her semi-nude scene. Frustrating because, overall, it's a finely acted, directed, and produced* film that lives up to its theme...only it's theme is, underneath all the talent involved, dull. Blame the script.

Clooney plays Ryan Bingham**, a man who flies from city to city firing employees of companies too milquetoast to do it themselves. Ryan is a natural at it. He has, in fact, based his life philosophy around the mentality it takes to detach oneself from human relationships. He coldly and uncaringly tells perfect strangers that they are no longer needed, but always with the phony sympathetic veneer attributed to most preachers and politicians. It's a chicken-or-egg type of query whether Ryan Bingham's outlook on life is a result of his line of work or whether he gravitated toward such a job because of it. It's best not to think too hard about that. Obviously, the film's producers didn't.

Bingham -- an egotistical loner whose comforts in life appear to be, in order, flying, fucking, and firing -- gives speaking engagements to espouse his beliefs on man's innate need for independence from materialism and human relationships. There's a brief, purposefully inaccurate, reference to the Heaven's Gate cult that makes me wonder whether director Jason Reitman (Juno) was acknowledging the translucent parallel between Bingham's philosophy and that of a cult leader's.

Ryan Bingham learns a lesson over the course of 109 very long minutes of film, but by its conclusion he's right back where he started. It's like watching the Grinch take those kids' toys, return them in an act of newly discovered humanity, and then steal them back again.

2/4 *_*

* Stylistically, the film is pretty low-key, but there are a couple of truly inspired flourishes of cinematogtraphy and editing.

** If there's a more forgettable name in the history of cinema, I'm at a loss to remember it. No one will remember the name Ryan Bingham. They should have pulled a Tony Danza and just called Clooney's character "George."

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