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George Clooney Searches His Soul

“Up In The Air” has been getting much buzz and early awards. Complex and heartfelt, this winning comedy deserves all the accolades.  George Clooney gives his most layered performance, and Jason Reitman proves once again to be an insightful director with an ability to deal with weighty issues in witty comedies.

Ryan Bingham (Clooney) fires people for a living. He flies all over the country as a hired gun leaving strangers devastated. Ryan is an isolationist. He prides himself on no obligations, no material things nor clingy people to force him to commit. When a young corporate upstart (Anna Kendrick) disrupts his mobile life by restructuring his company’s game plans, Ryan evaluates how lonely being an emotional island can be.

According to reports, Reitman had the kernel for the basis of the film in 2002, before making “Thank You For Smoking” or “Juno.” With a crippling economy, this story becomes even more potent as we end the decade.  By filming actual laid off employees for the scenes where Ryan drops the axe, it’s agonizing as these people unleash rage and sorrow that they truly feel.

His script, with Sheldon Turner, features sophisticated wit.  The humor comes from the character development, not a string of sitcom jokes. The script has much to say about interpersonal relationships, the horror of our current economical situation and how companies are pathological in their lack of humanity.

Reitman uses the airport as a metaphor for emotional freedom.  He exemplifies the caste system where frequent flyers are given priority and force everyone else to the back of the line. Ryan lives in a characterless single apartment with no photos, color or love because his home IS the airport.

Clooney has to dig deep into this role as his independent loner wakes up to the fallacies of his mantras.  He grows into a mentor for the inexperienced Kendrick, falls in love with a fellow traveler (Vera Farmiga) and even becomes an attentive brother at his estranged sister’s wedding. At first these relationships are thrust upon him, but we see the pain in Clooney’s face as he realizes how much he needs a connection.

Farmiga is an alluring beauty, the sort who could attract a professional bachelor without really trying. In the scene where her character describes a perfect life, it only makes her performance more fascinating when final revelations are revealed.

Kendrick has as much an emotional arc as Clooney. She begins the film as an innocent; one who thinks life is as clean and orderly as her business textbook case studies.  A high D personality, she doesn’t factor the human element until it slams into her face. Watching her stoic façade crumble is part of the innate drama. When she breaks loose at a party, it’s like finding the schoolmarm at a Chippendale’s club.

Tender, funny and thought-provoking, “Up In The Air” proves once again that Jason Reitman is at the forefront of our cinematic future, an oasis in the land of car crashes and vampires.  Grade: A

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