The George Clooney mystique continues.
From the time he first appeared as Dr. Doug Ross on the “ER” TV series back in 1994, people have been raving about the guy as an actor, and I just don’t see it. Sure, he was all right at the suave doctor, but when he began making feature films, it seemed to me that he played every part like Dr. Ross. But apparently I’m missing something because Clooney’s latest film, “Up in the Air” is being touted as one of the year’s best. And while it’s not a bad movie, it certainly isn’t one I could sit through again.
Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a guy who makes his living firing people. Yes, you read that right. Ryan is a corporate hit man. When a company needs to downsize by cutting back some employees, it calls Ryan in to do the dirty work of informing those who are to be terminated that they no longer have jobs. Oddly enough, Ryan really likes this work. He spends most of his time on airplanes (thus the film’s title), flying from one assignment to another. In fact, someone on a flight asks him where he is from, and he replies, “I’m from here.”
He has no family ties and no significant relationships. He lives out of a suitcase in hotel rooms, and even though he maintains a small apartment, he rarely spends any time there. He is a high-ranking member in all the credit card clubs, and his frequent flier miles are staggering.
Yes, Ryan is content with his lot in life, but then he meets two people who upset the balance of his comfortable existence. Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) is an attractive woman in the same line of work as Ryan. In fact, she tells him, “Think of me as yourself with a vagina.” Ryan and Alex really hit it off, and he finds himself much more involved with her than he has ever been with anyone else in his life.
Now while Ryan is attempting to cope with a whole new set of feelings and emotions, his boss orders him to take a new young female executive under his wing and teach her the fine art of firing people. Her name is Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), and she has some modern ideas about how Ryan can conduct his business, but he finds them outrageously unacceptable. Thus, she is assigned to travel with Ryan, and she is so naïve about this that he literally has to teach how to pack and where to stand in the airport.
Ryan’s relationship with these two very different women causes him to reevaluate his life and priorities and see his life in a completely different light.
Under the direction of Jason Reitman, “Up in the Air” is an unusual film that is at once humorous and sad. Based upon the novel by Walter Krin, it offers a thought-provoking look at modern society through the character of Ryan. In the film’s production notes, Rietman offered a perceptive analysis of both the character of Ryan and the film.
“I saw it as a story about a guy who has to deal with the fact that, even though he thinks his life is complete, he’s been ignoring something very important, which is the responsibility to be part of something larger. Ryan Bingham is so scared off by the burdens of joining a community that he’s been missing out on the value of that. It’s something I think we’re exploring as a society right now. We’re all using our cell phones and twittering and texting and it seems as if we are more connected than ever – while, in reality, people don’t look each other in the eye much anymore, and we have fewer real relationships. Ryan’s life in airports is a metaphor for that. You can go into an airport anywhere in the world and instantly know where everything is; they have the same shops, the same restaurants, the same newspapers. We’re comfortable everywhere, yet nowhere really seems to be home. We’re so global that we’ve lost that sense of local community.”
Although Clooney plays this role the same way he does with just about every character he portrays, it works here because Ryan is a pretty low-key guy. Clooney and his two female co-stars also work well together, and both of them bring more animation and emotion to their respective characters than he does to his.
I must admit that I became a bit bored watching Clooney’s character get on and off airplanes, walk through airports, and pack and unpack. Obviously a bit of this was necessary given the nature of Clooney’s character, but how many times do you have to see a guy zipping up his tie case before you get the idea that he does a lot of travelling?
“Up in the Air” already has been nominated for Golden Globe as best dramatic picture of the year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it garners several Oscar nominations. While I thought it was an interesting enough film, I certainly would not put it in the category of “great.” After I thought about it, I gave it a final score of 7, but if you had asked me to rate it just after I left the theatre, I probably would have told you that I was still up in the air about it.