We live in times which are rich for satire. It’s easy to poke fun at the state of the world, but sometimes satire can wander into the territory of cliché. Yet Jason Reitman’s latest film, Up In The Air manages to be satirical without ever being patronising. It’s a film that is perfectly timed for the world today. A world of unemployment, foreclosures and a society struggling for identity and direction.
Ryan Bingham has possibly the worst job in the world. He is the person companies hire in order to fire their employees. All he sees every day is people on the verge of nervous and emotional breakdown. And yet, he loves his life. He is constantly moving, working out of a suitcase. He travels the US, lives in hotels and counts air miles as achievements. And yet, he is alone. He barely talks to his two sisters, and has few friends. But his life is on course for a change. His company are introducing video conferencing, which would allow it’s employees to fire people from one central location. This threatens Bingham’s lifestyle. So he takes his company’s wunderkind, the developer of the video program, Natalie Keener, on the road to see what exactly it’s like to fire a person.
As I’ve mentioned, Up In The Air is the perfect film for these times. It deals with themes that many people can relate to right now. Unemployment is rife, companies are closing, and people just feel a sense of constant loss. It’s to Reitman’s credit that he uses real people to depict the people being laid-off by Bingham. Apart from a few actors who depict more plot-central characters, everybody Bingham fires are people who recently lost their jobs. Reitman instructed these people to tell the camera what they would have liked to have told their former employers, and the emotion really carries over. It adds gravitas to the film and makes the emotional impact more palpable.
George Clooney has found the role he was born to play. Ryan Bingham is suave and charming. Yet he seems detached from proceedings. It’s isolation he’s chosen, and perhaps, being a movie star and not interacting with ‘normal’ people like the rest of us, Clooney brings some of himself to the role. It’s a great performance from him, and indeed, the rest of the cast. Newcomer, Anna Kendrick plays Bingham’s charge, Natalie Keener. Keener is straight out of college and has something to prove, and yet is incredibly vulnerable when it comes to personal issues. She breaks Bingham’s isolationism down as he shows her that people aren’t just statistics. They’re perfectly cast against each other and lend real credibility to the film.
Jason Reitman’s career has taken off very well. His first three features, Thank You For Smoking, Juno, and Up In The Air are commercial and critical successes that deal with issues people can relate to. Up In The Air is probably the best film he’s made so far. It manages to capture the mood of the average person, while managing to tell a well-rounded personal story. It’s a very very good film, and worthy of the nominations it has received.