Having 10 million air miles would make even the thriftiest of travellers salivate and for Ryan Bingham, it’s the culmination of his life’s work.
At 500,000 miles for an around the world ticket, he could circumnavigate the globe 20 times at no financial cost, backed by a total amassed by fewer people than the number of humans who have set foot on the moon.
2009 release Up in the Air follows the life of Bingham (George Clooney), a 40-something corporate ‘downsizer’ who spends over 300 days a year firing people from their jobs on behalf of their companies across the United States.
Ironically, the lead character faces a work dilemma of his own as his firm announce ‘glocal,’ an amalgamation of global and local, plans to take their termination assistants off the road and centralise operations at their head office in Omaha, replacing a personal touch with a webcam service.
Perhaps not an ‘end of the world’ scenario, yet a problem presents itself for a man who has become accustomed to life in airports and five-star hotel rooms, a man so detached from personal relationships that he makes the job of delivering crushing news to others almost seamless.
Bingham’s lack of requirement for norms such as marriage, children and a permanent home make him an attractive character to have as the lead, with his nomadic ways sure to strike a chord with any passionate traveller.
His cool-handedness and virtual arrogance are strangely enticing, but not impenetrable as we find out when likeminded businesswoman Alex Goran (Vega Farmiga) enters the fold as an at-first casual lover-turned-love interest.
Two people so alike, that it would have been unforgivable to forgo the cliché and challenge the lead’s otherworldly views, making him consider another way of living in the process.
But he does have another woman in his life, 23-year-old Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), fresh out of college and with big plans to rock the boat as the new company acquisition.
Not a love interest, more of an understudy, she is a woman set for the modern day – fast and efficient, clear and concise, enthusiastic and determined. But as she finds out there is more to firing people than towing the company line and following a script.
Unlike Ryan, Natalie struggles to avoid the blurred lines between professional and personal – struggling to cope with the burden of her love life.
This trait astutely brings out the positives and negatives in Ryan’s life, showing his strengths as well as highlighting what he’s sorely missing.
The relationship between the pair not only highlights a generational gap, but is a learning curve for both characters and showcases some vital character progression.
With a solid cast, what Up in the Air does well is stay true to reality, presenting relatable scenarios that encourage discussion, debate and an alternative way of thinking.
From the moment he slips off his expensive, Italian leather loafers at airport security to the moment he locks eyes with the departures board at the picture’s close, social convention is challenged and makes a persuasive case for career-led, relationship-free living.
Bingham makes a lonely life seem so full, yet is called upon when his sister – seen as a more grounded representative of the family – comes close to being left at the altar. Having to convince the Husband-to-be to reconsider is difficult for Ryan on an emotional level, but when he takes a business-like approach things start moving along.
The movie’s greatest asset, however, is the vain of comedy that it incorporates. It’s nothing engrossing, nor is it over the top, but director Jason Reitman has clearly understood how important this subtle element is in keeping the picture ticking along while maintaining a desirable level of watchability.
One of the few gripes I had with Up in the Air was lack of a knockout blow at the finish. Although satisfying on some levels, I can’t help but wish Clooney’s character got a reprieve for his transgressions, got a crack at something different – slipped off his shoes, if you will.
Then again, maybe I just shared in some of his disappointment of the climatic moments or struggled to decipher whether its culmination was indeed an end, or just another beginning.
TT rating: 9 out of 10 – From start to finish, Up in the Air is exciting without doing anything spectacular. Its cleverly thought out story and considered approach garnished with a sprinkle of humour make it go a long way. It comes highly recommended to anyone interested in travel, as it dissects both the pros and the cons of some aspects of a wandering existence.
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