Release Date: Dec. 4 (limited), Dec. 25 (wide)
Director: Jason Reitman
Writers: Sheldon Turner, Reitman (novel by Walter Kim)
Starring: George Clooney, Jason Bateman, Anna Kendrick, Vera Farmiga
Cinematographer: Eric Steelberg
Studio/Run Time: Paramount Pictures, 109 mins.
Despite some fine acting, young director’s third film is uneven and formulaic
Jason Reitman has only made three feature films, but his work is already falling into familiar patterns. His first two films, Thank You for Smoking and Juno, were slickly produced, but the surface niceties were bolstered by sharp satire in the former and heartfelt emotion in the latter. His third, Up in the Air, seems calculated to backfill both the satire and the emotion before starting with a good story.
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) lives his life traveling, and he loves it, even though his job is to fire workers for employers who can’t break the news themselves. The gig’s a downer, but at least he gets to fly. Jason Bateman plays his remote boss, Vera Farmiga plays a fellow traveler, and when these actors pair off they’re fantastic.
Eventually Reitman aims higher than crackling dialogue and well-dressed wit, but he gets there only by asking us to think less. After fetishizing Bingham’s cold efficiency with a security-gate montage, the film stages unconvincing set pieces that alternately try to hinge the film’s tension on either the possibility that his job will go away or that his solitary life is meaningless. The paean to family life strikes a nice chord, and I appreciate the way the film avoids a simple resolution, but I’m not sure Reitman himself believes the message. He’s stretching, and the contrivances make Up in the Air feel like a cynical, manipulative bid for accolades, ghoulishly timed to take flight during the worst economy in decades.