Saturday, December 5, 2009
Jason Reitman, only 32 years old and already Oscar-nominated, is one of the best directors working today. He is a filmmaker with a real voice and his films are smart, edgy, hilarious, dramatic, fast-paced, and enjoyable. But there is one thing he does better than perhaps any other director out there: he defines his characters. You know you've sat through a pretty special film when you've met handfuls of people and feel like you could talk extensively about each one, and that's exactly the type of feeling you will get after seeing Up in the Air. It's one of the finest films of the year, and could very well be on its way to winning the Best Picture Oscar.
After starting off his career with two terrific films (Thank You for Smoking, Juno), Reitman takes another step in the right direction with Up in the Air. In this film, he is working with his best cast to date. Oscar-winner George Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham, a simple man on paper. He has a home base in Ohama that he visits for about forty days each year, but the truth of the matter is that his home is constantly changing. When most of us come back to our homes after long vacations, there is that deep sense of satisfaction and comfort. When Bingham returns to Omaha, it is just the opposite.
He much prefers the unpredictable places that his job takes him. He fires people, and whenever a company goes through a set of layoffs, they call on Mr. Bingham if they don't have the guts to do it themselves. It doesn't matter if the company is in Dallas or New York or San Francisco, Bingham is the man to call.
Ryan is also a public speaker. His theory in life is strangely similar to that of Robert De Niro's character in Heat. Bingham doesn't want anything in his life that he will get attached to. He thinks people should be able to fit everything they need in their life into a single backpack. In other words, in the eyes of Ryan Bingham, relationships are as unnecessary as your television.
When the film starts, Clooney's character is moving steadily through his usual routines, and he's loving every minute of it. But a series of things happen that alter Ryan's beloved lifestyle and force him to reevaluate his outlooks on life. First, he meets a beautiful woman named Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), and she seems to be something more than his usual one-night stand. In fact, she seems to be the female version of Bingham himself. No less of a road warrior than he is, Bingham impulsively proposes that their chemistry shouldn't end after just one night.
Next, his boss, Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman), gives him a call and says he has some big news; he needs Bingham back at the Omaha office. A young, lively, determined Cornell graduate named Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) has come up with an idea that could terminally end Bingham's current airplane lifestyle at the company. She proposes that the company adopt video conferencing to fire the employees. Why spend all the worthless money on airplanes, hotels, restaurants, and rental cars when we can fire these people right in our very own Omaha cubicles?
Needless to say, like a fish about to be taken out of water, Bingham does not go down without a fight. His boss gives him the chance to take Natalie on the road for a few weeks and see how this all works out. While traveling the country with Natalie, he meets up with Alex several times, and they all begin to evaluate their lives, see what their futures looks like, and determine if there is need for change.
Up in the Air is a film that was adapted from a 2001 Walter Kirn novel of the same name. Director Jason Reitman also co-wrote the screenplay with Sheldon Turner, and it once again shows just how good of a writer Reitman is. He paints these three main characters with such precision and creativity that you can't help but care about each and every one of them. And not only does he define their characteristics well, but the changes they all go through during the film feel realistic, worthy, and life-changing.
In this film, Jason Reitman shows just how good a talented writer/director can make an actor look. Clooney, the terribly under-appreciated Farmiga, and the young Keener are all in irresistible form, but when put together with the gem that is Reitman's script and vision, it takes these three performances to a completely different level.
Without a doubt, this is the quickest 110 minutes I've spent in a movie theater all year long. The film never takes a false step, and, as is always the case with a Reitman film, it moves along with a brisk, lively pace that can be matched by only a few other directors. I can't wait to see what this guy has in store for his next project, but I will be content to reflect on Up in the Air for quite a while. When this movie cut to black, I was a little disappointed. Not because it didn't end on the perfect note, but because it's just that good.