A late soundbite from Up in the Air tidily summarizes what George Clooney’s character is all about. Mid-air, the pilot on Clooney’s flight asks him where he’s from and Clooney replies, melancholy, “Right here.” Clooney’s transitory character, Ryan Bingham, is most at home at 35,000 feet, eating bad airport sushi, and spending nights at the Marriott. Things seem to be going well when he starts a fling with a fellow frequent flier (Vera Farmiga), but his lifestyle is threatened when ambitious company newcomer (Anna Kendrick) plans to move his company into the digital (and stationary) age.
Don’t let that sitcom-y premise distract, there’s a darker edge to this film. Clooney is in the business of doing the dirty work of other people’s failing businesses- companies contract him to execute their layoffs. A timely theme, to be sure. In the press line for the New York premiere, one Condé Nast writer was overheard explaining that though s/he wouldn’t normally bother to stay to watch the flick, this one seemed unusually appealing after weeks of dealing with McKinley people swarming around 4 Times Square.
Up in the Air feels like light drama through and through, so it’s surprisingly affecting when characters’ emotions are rawly exposed in the third act. Much will be made of the avowed bachelor George taking this particular role. As author Walter Kirn puts it, he was, in many ways, “the only possible choice for the character.” It should be noted that in past years a movie this neat would have a tough time snagging a Best Picture nomination, but with ten slots up for grabs in 2009 it’s a definite possibility.