My favourite Clooney film is Michael Clayton. He subverts his normal acting routine, his charm, the handsome, expressive face, the confident, mature particularly American masculinity and gravelly voice. He radiates a degree of moral compromise and weariness throughout the film that bursts in a barn-storming final speech. Clayton wasn’t the American male-archetype. In a similar fashion, Up in the Air isn’t America, land of opportunity, confidence, big business. This is a recession film, lampooning the corporate thinking of the past decade and shows the fallout of corporate-restructuring.
Clooney is Ryan Bingham, a chap addicted to racking up air-miles in his job as travelling ‘career transitions councillor’ firing people on behalf of bosses too scared to do it themselves. With little baggage in his life, he enjoys the vacuous airport lifestyle and no strings relationship with Vera Farmiga’s Alex.
When called in by his boss (Jason Bateman), he discovers a new scheme created by super-smart university graduate Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) to cut costs by grounding staff in the office and firing
people via webcam. The two travel the nation, he tutoring her in the art of firing people, his more humane method and she road-testing her new scheme. Be under no doubts, George goes on one ‘those’ journeys but it’s a fun ride for the most part.
This film is about fear. The fear that everybody has over the safety of their jobs, how their loved-ones relate to them and how we can make ourselves socially acceptable. Working at the lower end of a company where sales are down on last year and hours are being cut back, I see that fear. We all know people who have been hit by the recession so we get the fear. This isn’t the running theme however.
That’s only part of the film. It looks behind the flashy lifestyle of Bingham, corporate wreckage being a side-issue. Adverts sell us fear – we want the car because we get the girl and the alpine drive, we want the razor because we get the girl and the nice bathroom, we want the magazine because we get to go for a tightrope walk.
We fear that without these products we are nothing
Basically we want the lifestyle that Clooney has because we fear not being cool/rich etc. The adverts, most of us realise, are pretty empty and vacuous and that’s what this film is about.
Ryan Bingham is the white-collar version of the grim reaper perhaps. It’s affecting to see the damage he and his corporation wreak with the empty offices and staff who look at him in terror as he appears. The use of people recently fired is gives the film some heft, putting a face on the statistics that Bateman bandies about with glee. Stay through the credits for a bonus. Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga are great foils to Clooney who dominates and comes to see the reality behind the facade.
This is another film that subverts George’s charms, his manner and speeches sound increasingly trite in the face of employee anguish but he still sells being fired. His performance managed to hold me. What didn’t was the sub-plot.
The writing is sharp, particularly in the first half. It’s when the film’s secondary plot, Bingham’s sister getting married, kicks in. It just doesn’t quite work and makes the characters emotional journey all the more obvious and threatens to become trite, especially during the wedding crisis that didn’t convince me. That said, the ending is bitter, much bitterer than a lot of non-Clooney Hollywood films would dare, exposing the emptiness of the dream.