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Show Me the Mileage

Up in the Air (2009)

Dale Robinette/Paramount Pictures

As A. O. Scott and perhaps others have presciently observed, Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is this decade’s Jerry Maguire. The hero in “Up in the Air” is a self-made American corporate go-getter, whose sole mission in life is career success and the attainment of elite status (here via the rapacious accumulation of frequent flyer miles). Ryan is no stranger to director Jason Reitman, who brought us the soulless spinmeister Nick Naylor in “Thank You for Smoking.” Ryan’s eventual realization of the importance of family and companionship is similarly familiar territory for the man who also helmed “Juno.” This is a movie of few surprises, as our protagonist ultimately achieves self-actualization without compromising his capitalist principles.

Ryan works for a contractor that other companies hire to assist in workforce reduction. In other words, he fires people for a living. But he loves his job, as it helps him pile up those precious frequent flyer miles. When Ryan’s employer brings in efficiency expert Natalie (Anna Kendrick) to implement firings by proxy via teleconferencing, his way of life is under siege.

What makes Mr. Reitman’s film so memorable is the collection of unknown actors who play the redundant chopping-block-fodder employees. Indeed, “Up in the Air” is timely and relevant, even if it barely skirts the ubiquitous downsizing phenomenon that plagues our time. As these anonymous workers grapple with their uncertain futures, Ryan assures them this is an opportunity for them to chase after their true callings. But no matter how Ryan tries to spin it, he can’t massage away the devastation on their faces. Even though the film finally turns out to be yet another Hollywood fairy tale, at least it speaks the truth about our Great Recession.


Opens on Dec. 4, 2009 in the United States and on Jan. 15 in Britain.

Directed by Jason Reitman; written by Mr. Reitman and Sheldon Turner, based on the novel by Walter Kirn; director of photography, Eric Steelberg; edited by Dana E. Glauberman; music by Rolfe Kent; production designer, Steve Saklad; produced by Ivan Reitman, Jason Reitman, Daniel Dubiecki and Jeffrey Clifford; released by Paramount Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 47 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: George Clooney (Ryan Bingham), Vera Farmiga (Alex Goran), Anna Kendrick (Natalie Keener), Danny McBride (Jim Miller), Jason Bateman (Craig Gregory), Melanie Lynskey (Julie Bingham), Amy Morton (Kara Bingham), Sam Elliott (Maynard Finch), J. K. Simmons (Bob), Zach Galifianakis (Steve) and Chris Lowell (Kevin).


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