George Clooney is an easy guy to like. First we liked him as a compassionate and charming doctor, then we liked him as a criminally calculating yet simultaneously charming casino robber. We even liked him as a crafty but (you guessed it) charming animated fox. But surely no one could bring themselves to like him as a corporate downsizer for hire who takes pleasure in his job amid the worst financial crisis for generations? Oh. Actually, we like him doing that too.
Up in the Air is the story of the white collar hatchet man Ryan Bingham. He doesn't have an office, he keeps his family distant and the skies are the closest thing he has to a home; and he loves it that way. His job takes him to cities all over the US, where he pitches up just long enough to tell people they've been made redundant. While Bingham doesn't exactly relish delivering the bad news, he takes pleasure in knowing he's good at it. But most importantly, the job allows him to travel. The executive drifter, dedicated bachelor and hoarder of air miles believes the perks of the road amount to greater luxury than any inflated salary or beachfront property ever could. He even has company when he wants it, in the delightful form of his fellow executive traveller Alex (Vera Farmiga). She is essentially a female equivalent of Bingham, happy to enter into a casual relationship that appears to suit the pair equally.
But it's not long before he hits turbulence. First, a promising college graduate (Anna Kendrick) proposes a way in which his company could carry on its work without sending its staff on the road. Then, a problematic family wedding brings him back down to earth with a bang. Finally, he realises that his intentionally noncommittal relationship with Alex may be missing something after all. Each of the film's three main actors deservedly received Oscar nominations for their performances, and while Kendrick is excellent as the highly strung Natalie, Clooney and Farmiga's upside-down romance is the most fascinating thing here. Not only is the chemistry between the pair thoroughly believable, but it also provides the film's most humorous and dramatic moments. There are a number of excellent cameo appearances, too, from the likes of Zach Galifianakis, JK Simmons and Jason Bateman.
Clooney's turn as the tomcatting Bingham might come naturally to the actor, but the atmosphere that is established around his lifestyle in the opening act makes fascinating viewing in today's post-recessionary world. It feels wholly original to present such a seemly shallow existence as highly attractive now, but that's why it's a little disappointing when the film reveals itself to be about something other than the joys of perpetual bachelorhood.
Unfortunately a large amount of the film's originality and humour is squandered in the final act, when Bingham attends the wedding of his young sister and her oafish fiancé and proceeds to look down upon everyday Earth dwellers from the top of a cloud. In fact, there are several moments when Up in the Air's moral compass appears to be pointing in the wrong direction. Somewhat like Clooney's character, the film ends up getting rather confused about what it wants be. But thankfully, it's charming enough that it doesn't matter.