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Up in the Air

This title is so uncreative, that it circles all the way back to creative again.  The uniformed reader might guess that this was a poorly named post about the movie Up in the Air. An informed reader would figure that it was a post about the uncertainty surrounding the offseason or the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement.

The uninformed reader would be right.  Ah, irony…

Seriously, I don’t want to think about football right now.  The offseason here at 18to88 is an eclectic mish-mash of topics.  I wish we could talk more hoops, but that’s just depressing.  Instead, you’ll get a heavy dose of football, but also baseball, auto racing, and general nonsense.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be updating a lot of our preseason articles and working heavily on my book about Colts history.  Fortunately, it wasn’t a book about just the 2009 season, so I’m pretty confident that come August people will be excited about it.  We are all still smarting from the loss on Sunday, but this season was a great one, a successful one, and the team is still stacked for next year, so there’s a lot feel good about in the long run.  I can promise you this, we’ll talk about everything worth talking about, but we won’t just talk for the sake of talking.  I hate blather and that’s all the offseason is.

None of that matters today, however.  Today, I’m going to talk about the movie I saw.  Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air is a major player for many of the plumb cinema awards with good reason.  Honestly, the first trailer I saw for the movie made it look like a mess, but the good buzz (and utter lack of anything else to see in Argentina right now) persuaded me otherwise.  Plot wise, the movie is simple.  It follows a stereotypical lone wolf/sharky businessman played by George Clooney.  Actually, I should have just said it follows George Clooney playing George Clooney.  He works for a company that does corporate downsizing.  He’s a professional ‘fire-er’, a sort of corporate hitman who kills careers instead of people.  He live an isolated life of constant travel and likes it that way.  Over the course of the movie, he encounters characters who force him to reevaluate his life and his values.

That’s what happens in the movie, but the film itself is much more nuanced and subtle than my ham-handed attempt to summarize it.  The movie begins and ends with Clooney.  Reitman smartly uses the audience’s familiarity with Clooney to establish a sense of identity for the character.  You know immediately what kind of person the movie is about.  Clooney does a masterful job, however, in drawing you in and making his portrayal of ‘Ryan Bingham’ human with real depth and a hidden kind of pain that lesser actors would have failed to draw out or simply over played all together.  Bingham starts as an archetype, but Clooney makes him human.  This is the key to the whole movie.  Against the odds, you begin to feel for the guy, take an interest in him and long to see him grow up and mature and find happiness in life.

His interactions center around two woman.  Alex, his love interest played by Vera Farmiga, is the feminine version of Bingham.  The two engage in a love affair that is, ahem, narcissistic (to use a pg word) because each person is basically just making love with him and herself through the other person.  Farmiga is wonderful in the role, and because the relationship ends in a predictable way, she deserves all the praise she has gotten because she makes you care about the character, even though you know who and what she is.

The second woman, Natalie Keener played by Ana Kendrick, is a young lady attempting to overhaul the way Bingham’s already heartless business is run.  Surprisingly, she is seeking to make it even more inhuman than it already is.  She has to travel the country with Bingham, learning the ropes of firing people, so she can do it more cost effectively.  Her personal crisis helps Bingham establish his humanity.  He is a person who has chosen solitude not because he’s a sociopath, but because of real pain in his life that the movie mercifully doesn’t explore or name.

Up in the Air is funnier, more poignant, and better written than I expected. The dialogue was scintillating.  The direction was pitch perfect, and the performances from the actors were stellar.  The movie is sad and empty in a subtle kind of way that makes its point with gentleness and allows you to take in the existential crisis of Clooney’s Bingham without leaving the theater ready to throw yourself off a bridge.  Because of my affinity for The Big Lebowski, I always appreciate any movie when Sam Elliot shows up wearing an unusual costume and serves as a proxy for God.

I appreciated, respected, and enjoyed Up in the Air.  It probably isn’t the best picture of 2009 (I’m still going with Inglorious Bastards), but unlike Avatar, it certainly deserves to be in the conversation.