- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ason Reitman may not always get the respect he deserves as a filmmaker, but there’s no denying his flawless track record. Granted, he’s only made three movies in his short career, but the fact that every one has been Oscar caliber validates his place among the elite directors of his generation. And like a good wine, he only seems to get better with age, because “Up in the Air” is his best work to date. It always helps to have a big star like George Clooney in your corner, but although he's certainly integral to the film’s success, it’s Reitman’s whip-smart script, well-developed characters, and keen use of his actors that ultimately makes “Up in the Air” the highly entertaining modern American classic that it is.
Many people say that home is where the heart is, but for Ryan Bingham (Clooney), home is up in the air. As an employee of Career Transition Counseling, Ryan makes his living flying from town to town firing people so that their bosses don’t have to. He loves the freedom that travel brings him (not to mention the perks), so when a hot shot college grad named Natalie (Anna Kendrick) arrives in town with a proposal to cut expenses by revolutionizing their trade via video conferencing, Ryan’s lifestyle is in danger of being grounded. After his boss suggests Ryan show Natalie the ropes on the road, however, he begins seeing a cute frequent flier (Vera Farmiga) who may just change his philosophy about life as a corporate road warrior.
Though “Up in the Air” is technically based on the novel of the same name by Walter Kirn, the two couldn’t be any more different. With the exception of the Ryan Bingham character and a few other details (like his sister’s upcoming wedding and his sleazy boss, played to perfection by Jason Bateman), Reitman’s version has changed significantly. For starters, Anna Kendrick’s character is a completely original creation, while the relationship between Clooney and Farmiga has been given much more depth. Fans of the book likely won’t mind, either, because it allows Kirn’s novel to exist independently of the film. Both are great stories, but they’re about two different things.
The book was about Ryan’s obsession with attaining elite status in his personal and professional life, while the movie focuses more on how his relationships change him as a person. Clooney is tailor-made for the role – a charming but mildly arrogant bachelor who would much rather spend his life surrounded by strangers than with family and friends. It only makes his young-at-heart fling with Farmiga that much more enjoyable, as their flirty first encounter (over which travel reward programs give you the best value) blossoms into one of the most memorable onscreen romances in years.
Clooney may carry the film, but Anna Kendrick runs away with it as his fast-talking, business-minded pupil. She’s been flying under the radar for years with scene-stealing roles in movies like “Rocket Science” and the “Twilight” series, but “Up in the Air” finally gives her the chance to really shine. It would be a major understatement to say that she doesn’t make the most of it, because Kendrick easily delivers one of the best female performances of the year. She’s reason enough to see the film, but in addition to a refreshingly honest script and a great ensemble cast, “Up in the Air” gives you several more. It doesn’t match the 10,000,000-mile goal that Ryan Bingham has set for himself, but if “Up in the Air” was a passenger, it would definitely be flying first class.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
Released just in time for the Academy Awards, the Blu-ray release of “Up in the Air” features a small but solid collection of extras. The commentary with director/co-writer Jason Reitman, director of photography Eric Steelberg, and first assistant director Jason Blumenfeld is incredibly informative, with Reitman leading a lively discussion about making the film. There are also 23 minutes of deleted scenes, and while they were likely cut for time, there’s a lot of good stuff here, including a fun montage that follows Ryan Bingham around town as he learns to adapt to his post-Airworld lifestyle. Rounding out the set is a short featurette on Shadowplay (the company responsible for the opening title sequence), some video storyboard comparisons, and a music video.