"You’re so pretty. You’re exactly what I want to look like in fifteen years."
- Natalie (to Alex)
Ryan: You know that moment when you look into somebody’s eyes and you can feel them staring into your soul and the whole world goes quiet just for a second?
Ryan: Right. Well, I don’t.
At a glance:
Geaorge Clooney’s Ryan Bingham is a dedicated air traveler who shuns commitments until his ‘empty backpack’ life is affected by love and family, and a sudden need for companionship
Our review (with spoilers):
When I was about to embark recently on at overseas trip, I agonized about having to go through those security checkpoints. I always seem to be so slow to prepare before and to gather all my belongings after – and I can’t seem to work out what goes in the trays, what stays out, and what has to be taken off. And I’m always forgetting to remove some metal object from a pocket or wrist. When I got to LA, I noticed there were two lines: one for casual travelers and one for seasoned travelers. I got on the casual line but I tracked a confident guy in the seasoned line: the way he grabbed three trays, not two; the way he almost slammed the trays down on the conveyor (that seemed to be important); exactly what he removed and how, and where he placed the removals. There’s a similar scene in Up in the Air, where we watch seasoned traveler Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) as he seamlessly preps for security.
Ryan is more than a seasoned traveler. He’s one of the most traveled travelers in the world. He travels 322 days a year, and he always loyally flies American Airlines. He’s about to be the youngest ever American Airlines 10 million miler – a personal goal that means way too much for him. When he touches down, his job is as a professional firer – he flies in fire batches of employees, and then flies out. Needless to say, Ryan’s company is one of the few in the USA that is experiencing a boom.
Ryan has no family, no commitments, and virtually no home. He lives in the air. He is so content with his lifestyle that he pushes his way of life in lectures, and he’s writing a self-help book called "What’s in your Backpack?" But Ryan’s cocoon is about to be punctured. First, he begins a slightly more than casual relationship with fellow traveler Alex (Vera Famiga). Ryan begins to develop stronger feelings toward Alex that go beyond their shared love of the air and their attraction to customer loyalty and credit cards. At the same time, Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a sharp young consultant, is about to convert the army of flying terminators into desk jockeys who fire people remotely using teleconferencing. Ryan’s boss Craig (Jason Bateman) is already convinced that this change should be made, but he first asks Ryan to take Natalie with him on the job to show her how it works.
Up in the Air, expertly directed by the talented Jason Reitman, presents the contrast of youth and experience, family and freedom, job security and job termination, and extreme idealism versus extreme pragmatism. These broad stroke themes are not preached, but are hidden within a well-written story peppered with moments both touching and hilarious.
Clooney has shaped his career by playing handsome, emotionally challenged characters, but there is always an inner depth to the personas he creates. Outward, Ryan appears to be callous; we suspect, and the not-so-subtle signs are there, that inside he realizes he is missing something. The story is ambiguous enough to leave us wondering just how much effect these events had on this man, and we leave wondering whether or not he will continue to fly above us in the night.
Rating: 3.5 of 4
Other reviewers said:
"It's refreshing to hear characters that display some verbal dexterity and a script that moves cleverly along, entertaining us as it actually works to develop its characters and themes."
- Beth Accomando (KPBS.org)