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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
George Clooney
Vera Farmiga
Anna Kendrick
Melanie Lynskey.
Directors
Jason Reitman.
Screenwriters
Jason Reitman
Sheldon Turner.
Running Time
109 minutes

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Up In The Air
Jason Reitman takes flight post-Juno


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Plot
Ryan Bingham (Clooney), frequent flyer and corporate downsizer, has his life just how he likes it: no emotional ties, plenty of in-flight perks. That is, until he falls for the enigmatic Alex (Farmiga), and is saddled with work-partner Natalie (Kendrick)…


Review
Up In The Air
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As the anecdote goes, George Clooney took just one brisk read of the script, sat in one of the many bedrooms of his palatial villa on the tranquil shores of Lake Como, to say yes to Jason Reitman’s follow-up to hip, teen-pregnancy dramedy Juno. He could see it straightaway, the role of a lifetime. Or at least a role in his gifted hands that could be transformed into the role of his lifetime: this suave yet haunted jet-setter with a tincture of Cary Grant or perhaps George Clooney about him, intent on reaching a miraculous ten million air miles as he skips from city to city laying off the workforce on behalf of cowardly bosses. He’s a mobile downsizer, or ‘career transition counsellor’, thriving in the chaos of recession. Topical, huh?

Yes, of course, but not as polemic, but context — a gravitational pull anyone would wish to escape from. It’s worth mentioning the script, based on Walter Kirn’s novel, was six years old before going into production. Only once the shoot commenced did it take on such a cruel relevance. A consumerist fable with its synthetic dream of never-to-be-spent frequent-flyer miles, set against the bleak shadow of now.

But this all sounds far too heavy for a film so light. In Reitman’s care, still channelling the breezy, matter-of-fact perkiness of Juno, it is an emphatic statement that Hollywood can still make great movies; a celebration that stardom can be as thrilling a concept as 3-D or CG or mooncalf vampires.

Bingham has a system for life — he avoids it. He travels perfectly, flitting between meetings, sealed safe and selfish in business class. See how effortlessly he negotiates the hurdles of airport security. Hear his withering put-downs of the herds of clueless travellers. Yes, Up In The Air comes complete with a Clooney voice-over, one of modern cinema’s most beguiling pleasures. That wisdom-bestowing, aphoristic science-of-life stuff — just on the edge of droll — piloting us through Bingham’s handsome head. A philosophical voice track that crosses over into his motivational speeches: public demos of his ruthless, emotional impregnability. “We are not swans,” he chides a conventional hall part-filled with blank faces. “We are sharks.”

Two women will happen to Bingham in different ways. The first in what seems to be a traditional rom-com, is Vera Farmiga’s Alex. She proves his perfect opposite: the Hepburn to his sly-smiled Tracy, the female version of himself. She even wryly recognises the attraction: “Just think of me as you, but with a vagina.” Farmiga, who has a lived-in authenticity to her beauty, laps up Alex’s flighty ambiguities. Alex is loose on the airwaves too, and their first encounter is a duel of platinum reward cards — the jousting of battle scars from Jaws rewired for the age of hermetic travel. While Clooney gets the lines, the trajectory of the plot, the ravishing Farmiga has a range of subtle glances, ironic smiles and deft shrugs that suggest a world of emotion held sternly at bay.

It is not destiny, but scheduling that has drawn them together. Two people content to be casual. And love, the real grubby stuff of life, would only complicate things. You can see where this is going. Only you can’t. Not quite. Reitman keeps tweaking comfortable outcomes and throwing us off balance.

The other female is Natalie, a spiky greenhorn fresh in from business school with a computerised plan to downsize even the downsizers: a system of remote-control lay-offs via video. An indignant Bingham — confronting the grounding of his made-to-measure non-life — is forced to drag her around for his latest session of city-hopping redundancies. Thus, besides the rom-com, it’s an odd-couple flick: smug old-timer and mixed-up go-getter.

Anna Kendrick is the third of the film’s marvels. Natalie’s aiming for Bingham’s icy-calm, but can’t hold it in. Her swift, hilarious breakdown, including a splendid squall of unbidden tears in the midst of a departure hall, and Bingham’s allergic reaction supply the meat of the comedy. Reitman likes this bounce of opposites — Ellen Page ruffling Jennifer Garner’s stiff feathers in Juno — and their conversation has the zest of classic-era comedy.

Indeed, Billy Wilder would have loved its set-up, the barbs nestled amongst the folly of human foibles; Howard Hawks its complicated interplay between the sexes. To counter such glistening movieness, and sharpen its real-world subtext, Reitman interviewed 120 recently laid-off workers, sprinkling their candid words amongst the narrative — a Greek chorus of broken lives. The script is structured into city chapters, with these to-camera interviews slotted between, a shape as precise as the habits of the protagonist. As with Juno, there are contrivances, shortcuts to get us home on time. But they feel deliberate and confidently handled, part of that old-Hollywood style that courses beneath modern sheen.

Reitman also shoots with quiet power. Initially, it is cold and neat, all angular airport architecture and walls of icy glass, but as Bingham is unpeeled, so the director’s camera loosens up, switching to scruffy handhelds and grainier stock. There is plenty of aerial work, of course, gliding us through the sanctuary of the skies to peer godlike upon Midwestern cities more like burned-out circuit boards. In these strange, snowy centres of American torpor, where the recession has dug deepest, Bingham will do his thing. And the more we witness the sad ritual of dismissal, workers shorn of dignity and hope, the more we realise we’re getting the film all wrong.

This is one of the script’s brilliant tricks — to undermine our knee-jerk judgement of Bingham. We’ve got him pegged, this untouchable, steel-hearted hatchet man who will melt before the film’s out, but as he gently exposes the nature of his trade to his new sidekick, his understanding of grief and human panic reveal him as the most compassionate soul in the film. He is both executioner and therapist in one. And Clooney revels in the contradiction. Bingham isn’t emotionless — he’s just in control.

Much has and will be written on the close fit between Clooney and his charge: isolated, childless men, decent but unreachable, living their lives in the hushed unreality of airtight luxury. Everywhere and nowhere at once. Late on, Reitman changes tack for a chapter. Bingham, starting to soften, goes to his estranged sister’s (Melanie Lynskey) wedding, taking Alex as his date on a whim. Here, amid the touchstones of a forgotten childhood, he will prove unlikely saviour and the contact will pry him open. Without the lunatic twitches of some Method man, Clooney cracks the façade, and a mix of loneliness and hope pours out. He was right about this one — it has all the unguarded desperation of Michael Clayton, but is sexier, funnier and more knowing. He thrives off the film, and the film off his gift of a performance.

All the while Reitman, fast-tracking himself onto the A-list in a graceful swoop of excellence, is able to maintain that toughest of balances: the lightly profound, an unfussy, impeccably performed, romantic entertainment able to say something important about its times. Up In The Air is a rarity indeed, and should win Oscars for them all. One of which will look just dandy on the sideboard in Como.


Verdict
Oscar frontrunner? Certainly. But don’t let that drag it into some tough-but-good-for-you category. This is smart, silky, sensitive, and funny old-school movie magic.


Reviewed by Ian Nathan

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Up In The Air
Empire Star Rating

Up In The Air

Funny and heartfelt, Up In The Air belongs to that rare breed of comedy (and certainly drama) which sends viewers away with more than just entertainment, it sends them away with ideas about our lives and the lives of those around us. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by movienut707 at 16:40, 09 September 2013 | Report This Post


Up in the Air Review

Led by charismatic performances by its three leads, director Jason Reitman delivers a smart blend of humor and emotion with just enough edge for mainstream audiences. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 23:43, 13 February 2012 | Report This Post


Might just be perfect.

Clever, charming, funny, great acting. Loved it. Great film. Spot on review. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by guysalisbury at 18:19, 12 June 2011 | Report This Post


I think I loved it, I am still thinking about it 24 hours after watching the dvd which is usually a sign of greatness. But 'breezy comedy'? Please tell me I wasn't the only one who was seriously bummed out by Binghams near character arc - swoop (which I was desperate to see) only to end up in a different direction. Very clever, sharp filmmaking and I want to be Vera Farmiga when I grow up but not sure what this film would be like for repeated viewings... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Taizy at 01:59, 16 March 2011 | Report This Post


Doomed Love versus Fear of Unemployment versus Air Miles

The concept of companies so cowardly they hire-out private contractors to fire employees --this is so wildly unpleasant, you instantly believe it. And so Your Man Clooney, a sort of jet-setting grim reaper crossed with Esquire, develops a life-philosophy as gleefully isolated as the most oblivion-bound Samuel Beckett tramp. But prettier. The puncuation marks of this film are incredibly lofty views of geometric farm belts, wierdly inhuman, gods-eye, and thank Him for HD. The truly masterful touch... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Then again who does? at 08:08, 06 March 2011 | Report This Post


Average. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by reminn at 12:16, 03 November 2010 | Report This Post


Such a Delightful Film

Congrats to all those involved Especially George ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by monkeyhumour at 05:59, 24 June 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Up In The Air

3 star movie ruined by Clooney. Nothing more,nothing less.Functional like an in-flight service. Now can we discuss some real films?? ... More

Posted by BOHEMIANBOB at 00:01, 04 June 2010 | Report This Post


Up In The Air

I enjoyed it, didn't think it was quite as worthy of the five star review Empire gave it but I found it better than a lot of the usual major studio fodder released these days, and while I'm still not 100% convinced of the praise Jason Reitman has been getting for the films he has made, it was quite moving at times - without going too far into spoiler territory, for a mainstream film that had been advertised as a rom-com I was surprised by how bleak the ending was (for Clooneys character any... More

Posted by Indio at 22:42, 03 June 2010 | Report This Post


its no Juno! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by plum bob at 14:07, 31 May 2010 | Report This Post


Modern Classic

"Up In The Air" is a true cinematic treat. While very often funny, this movie is also heart-breaking and highlights just how great of an actor George Clooney is. Certainly the modern day Cary Grant - as they say. Just a beautiful film in every aspect of movie-making. See it now! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by krisjcummins at 23:30, 30 May 2010 | Report This Post


Make your own film Jason Reitman!!!

This was such a poor mans Cameron Crowe film- from the whimsical guitary soundtrack, to the 'interviews to camera' technique. Shockingly so really, and you can see why it was financed- pitched as a kind of Gerry Maguire- with George Clooney in the Tom Cruise role. Or perhaps it's more like Elizabethtown- with that familiar Cameron Crowe-esque theme of: 'man who's lost his soul, and is trying to find himself'. But I doubt it was pitched as that film!! Anyway, it all felt so familiar. Jason Rei... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by stevos at 19:09, 21 May 2010 | Report This Post


Up in the air

Up in the Air is a entertaining blast of fresh air from the very beginning. Its smart, witty, clever and funny but sadly it runs out of steam towards the end leaving it wounded. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Soprano168 at 11:39, 27 April 2010 | Report This Post


Breezy film which reminds us what films are about

Up in the Air is a mix of ingenious writing, clever directing and flawless acting whcih makes for a beautiful, light-hearted and breezy experience. Jason Reitman is the man to thank here, who co-writes and directs the film in a manner that will really entertain you and leave you thinking afterwards. The film's script is hilarious, moving and layered full of themes at the same time; watching it unfold truly becomes a unique experience. Clooney, Kendrick and Farmiga are truly brilliant actors; th... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by djphilips at 14:25, 09 April 2010 | Report This Post


Up in the Air-just that--A great new classic

Brilliant, light but serious. Funny and moving. Clooney's best work ever. It's like the old Tracy/Hepburn films but with swearing, drunks, and nudity. One of my favorites of the year. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 22:43, 29 March 2010 | Report This Post


Real Movie Magic

This film is simply outstanding. A cinematic masterpiece in storytelling for the 21st century. Up In The Air touches on sensitive themes that affect most people throughout life- the struggle to find and keep work, finding happiness and goals to aspire to. It doesn't lay on "the hidden meaning" of life MTV style but makes its point subtly enough throughout the film through an excellent script with a cast that has been well chosen for their roles. This is a smart, clever movie with poig... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Francis46 at 21:56, 08 March 2010 | Report This Post


Oscar frontrunner?Certainly NOT!

I wouldn't be surprised if one of the actors won an oscar because they were all very good but after reading your review i was expecting something better and even funnier than thank you for smoking and juno but wasn't as good or as funny as either of them.It has a good start but you expect it to get better but yet it hits a bit of turbulence in the middle and stays that way right up to the credits. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by JohnPaul1996 at 15:03, 06 March 2010 | Report This Post


Not a Classic

I enjoyed Up In the Air- like Jason Reitman's previous efforts. However, I am not sure it resonates for me the way something like say, 'Thank You For Smoking' did and so I wouldn't give it 5 stars. I found George Clooney's character more interesting in the first half of the film where he was aware of how people would perceive his life-style and was very unapologetic about it.This was why when the film meandered into typical rom-com territory I was nearly in tears. I enjoy movies like this where ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by thereallovefilm at 01:09, 05 March 2010 | Report This Post


wow!!!

i just saw this movie last night and i fully agree with empires rating. i thought clooneys performance as always was perfection. i also found the support cast to be excellent as well, a great movie ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by toal87 at 18:53, 24 February 2010 | Report This Post


Four Stars...

It;s a good movie. Not monumental or mind-blowing, but very good. George Clooney as always is suave and charming, he brings depth and credibility to the character of Ryan Bingham, a businessman who lives his ilfe, pretty much, 'up in the air' He is a lonely man (Think Hugh Grant in About a Boy) who meets people who change him. Vera Farmiga is less than fantastic, beside Clooney but she plays her part (Alex, a woman who is very like Ryan Bingham) well. Anna Kendrick's performance is the real surp... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Swedle at 16:19, 24 February 2010 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

I saw Up in The Air this afternoon, and I was really surprised! From just reading a summary of the film, I didn't expect much but somehow a seemingly basic story had much depth, quirkiness and real life relevance. Plus, George Clooney is an absolute babe. I loved this film, and even though the ending wasn't themost 'concluding' of endings, I'd definitley give this movie 3.5/5 Oh, and that uptight co-worker was an absolute pleasure to hate! ----------------------------... More

Posted by jessekaye at 23:34, 20 February 2010 | Report This Post


RE:

Five stars...you've got to be kiddin' me.  Three stars is about right, the ending ruined it for me. ... More

Posted by theoriginalcynic at 22:00, 20 February 2010 | Report This Post


Great fun with a hilarious and clever script. Clooneys best performance since Syriana it deserves almost every oscar its been nominated for. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by raymondbros at 17:48, 18 February 2010 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

L: Dr Lenera Up In The Air is a reasonable but often unengaging drama that isn't really worth the acclaim it's been getting. It begins well and seems like it's going to carry on that way, with a premise that relates to important issues of the time me very witty and entertaining dialogue. The relationship between George Clooney's character Ryan and Natalie ung upstart up to steal his thunder is very well handled, being slightly tense and uncomfortable, and the film almost feels Billy Wilder... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Axel Foley at 15:17, 16 February 2010 | Report This Post


Almost perfect drama with Clooney as a corporate hatchet man, criss crossing the country firing people for companies too chicken shit to do it themselves. As his own company considers downsizing, and he is given a trainee to tag along with him, he finally meets a woman who could persuade him to give up the travelling and settle down. But unlike 99% of Hollywood romances this never goes where you are expecting and is a constant joy. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by duncan1964 at 09:28, 10 February 2010 | Report This Post


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