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Movie Review: Up in the Air (2009)

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Written by Hombre Divertido

Up in the Air with George Clooney is a thoroughly entertaining place to be.

Avatar may have state of the art special effects, and Sherlock Holmes may be action packed, but Up in the Air succeeds by keeping it simple, excellent storytelling through superb writing and solid performances.

In Up in the Air Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate-downsizing gun-for-hire who is on the road more than 300 days a year firing employees for corporations, and lecturing on simplifying one's life by eliminating attachments to things and relationships. Though a life upon the road may seem like a miserable existence to most, it is exactly the existence Ryan cherishes and yearns to excel at.

When Ryan’s company hires fresh-out-of-college hotshot Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) who has plans to change the way the company operates by eliminating the need for travel, Ryan gets assigned to show her the ropes. While Ryan and Natalie are traveling throughout the U.S. firing people, Ryan is also trying to make time for a new interest in his life (Vera Farmiga) who describers herself as a female him and a pending family obligation.

Ryan’s cynical sense softens slightly throughout the film as he begins to see his life from the perspective of others, but the growth is stunted, and he is left to evaluate many choices he has made in life. Some of the plot turns are a bit obvious, but that is made up for by smart and witty dialog.

Based on the novel by Walter Kim, the screenplay by director Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner is paced perfectly, moving at a speed that is just quick enough to keep the dialogue-driven endeavor from bogging down without losing any of the subtle moments key to the success of the film as a whole.

The cinematography by Eric Steelberg is top notch as he truly manages to capture the U.S. locations in a rural and gray look that is engaging to the audience.

The performances in Up in the Air will warrant many award nominations. Unfortunately, Clooney makes this look too easy, and though that is a tribute to his skill and that of casting director Mindy Marin, it may hinder Clooney when the awards are distributed. It is the supporting players that make this film extremely fun. From the one-scene outings of J. K. Simmons and Sam Elliot, and those of even lesser-known actors playing the soon to be downsized, to the performance of Farmiga who manages to say so much without saying a word. Kendrick’s performance gets a bit too cartoony at times for this production, and Jason Bateman as Ryan and Natalie’s boss is too smug, but the impact is minor, and is made up for by those surrounding them.

Recommendation: Guaranteed to leave you wanting more. Skip the blockbusters and settle in for some old-school filmmaking.

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  • Evan

    Great movie. Walter Kirn, the author of the book the movie is based on, is the son of an executive who worked at a major US corporstion with the same three letters :) that utilized the practice of outsourcing terminations.

    The only reason that web based terminations are not used is that they desperatly want you to sign the release form on the way out the door, which eliminates the “legal blowback” referred to in the movie.