This is a fairly decent effort from Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking, Juno), which is already getting lots of award nominations. But the impact of the economic crisis on this film is by far its most intriguing element.
Ryan (George Clooney) has a job firing people. Companies hire him to fly in and deliver the bad news, and smooth over the trauma with some patter about moving on and a severance packet. This suits Ryan very well, because he seems to fear emotional intimacy – for reasons which are never explored – and he loves coming “home” to airports. With the global recession biting, he’s never been busier (“this is our moment”, his boss claims). But the firing business is subject to the pressures of profit too, and young recruit Natalie (Anna Keener) has a bright idea: why not sack people over the internet?
The rest of the film is taken up with Ryan forming two relationships – a fatherly one with Natalie, who shadows him on one last redundancy tour, and a more romantic one with fellow frequent flier Alex (Vera Farmiga). These test his cold philosophy to the limit.
So far, so not bad, and there are some fairly impressive moments. Kendrick may be in line for a Best Supporting Actress nomination when the Oscars come round, because she performs credibly as a well-written character who undergoes her own changes. But the testimony from real recently redundant white collar workers makes the film, and provides the most human moments.
When Reitman started work on Up In The Air seven years ago, he had the idea that “It seems as if we are more connected than ever – while in reality…we have fewer real relationships”. Events have overtaken this rather shallow premise, and literally forced their way into the picture.
Following The Girlfriend Experience and Capitalism: A Love Story, this is the third major film release in which our new economic reality has played a big part. Genuine artists are beginning to take stock, and they are being forced to examine the economic basis of our society, along with the many different relationships of which it is comprised. This bodes well for the future of cinema and all other art forms.