The United Methodist Reporter is offering the latest headlines in the RSS format.
FILM REVIEW: Clooney’s hatchet man finds his humanity Ken Lowery, Jan 15, 2010
PARAMOUNT PICTURES PHOTO
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) unwinds with fellow career traveler Alex (Vera Farmiga) in Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air.
By Ken Lowery Staff Writer
There are men and women just like Ryan Bingham haunting airports all over America. In a society that so strongly values the homestead, they stand apart: professional travelers comfortable in the airport-hotel-rental car limbo that so many of us try to avoid.
They are people who find themselves comfortable anywhere except the place they have the key to (as opposed to a hotel’s magnetic card). They know the airlines, the car rental places and the “local flavor” restaurants in every major and minor hub in the United States.
Bingham (played with world-weary charm by George Clooney) is a professional hatchet man whose company hires him out to lay off people all over the country. But he is not a cruel man. Though his patter is memorized and his faint words of inspiration are scripted, Bingham nonetheless feels some minor piece of the pain of every person he fires.
As well he should: Part of Bingham’s job is to absorb his assignment’s anger and despair so their employers don’t have to. Here is a stranger who walks into their lives, utterly devastates them and then walks out, never to be seen again. So it’s not surprising that many of them ask, “Who do you think you are?”
It’s a good question, and one Bingham finds himself unable to answer throughout most of the film. He’s a man of frequently used charm and little-known depth who is a non-entity to his siblings. He loathes the 40-odd days he spends at home and considers accumulating 10 million miles as his ultimate goal in life.
His “what’s in your back pack?” motivational seminars, about lightening as much of your emotional luggage as you can, begin to ring hollow even to him. Even his on-again, off-again tryst with the spicy, thorny fellow traveler Alex (Vera Farmiga, The Departed) is sporadic and often business-like. For a man like Bingham, a kindred spirit is someone he doesn’t mind seeing only every now and again.
Bingham’s comfortable life, drifting in and out of the lives of others, is disrupted by the innovation of his company’s new hire, an over-achiever named Natalie (Anna Kendrick, Twilight) just a few years out of college. Natalie thinks the best way for the company to cut corners is to ground travelers like Bingham and move to an Internet-based interface.
Bingham, still human despite it all, balks at the coldness of firing someone via computer. He asks Natalie to accompany him on a few trips to see what the job is really about.
Already we think we know the course of Up in the Air: Bingham will teach Natalie important things about face-to-face interaction, and he and Alex will eventually settle down together. But director Jason Reitman (who co-wrote the screenplay with Sheldon Turner) is a more careful observer of human behavior than that.
Mr. Reitman, son of director Ivan Reitman, previously adapted and directed Thank You For Smoking, another film about a smooth-talking businessman who finds his humanity in unexpected places. Thank You’s Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) might recognize something of himself in Ryan Bingham, as both men stumble their way into better (though not necessarily more comfortable) places.
Up in the Air has already garnered serious critical attention (and a few awards from critics’circles), and looks ready to be a major contender for the Oscars. The praise and attention is warranted.
There are no excessive flourishes in Ryan, Alex or Natalie, no false word or forced emotion. There are no villains or evil forces at work, only people trapped by the lives they thought they wanted.
And there are no easy solutions or clean breaks; the protagonists don’t want them and aren’t looking for them. Up in the Air is simply a human movie, and a masterful one.