Sunday, February 21, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW: Up in the Air

Number of Nominations: 6 (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor - George Clooney, Best Supporting Actress - Vera Farmiga, Best Supporting Actress - Anna Kendrick, Best Adapted Screenplay)
Availability in the US: In Select Theatres (Check Showtimes)

"Anybody who ever built an empire, or changed the world, sat where you are now. And it's because they sat there that they were able to do it."

Have you ever fired someone or, worse yet, have you ever BEEN fired? Neither one is the greatest feeling in the world. Now imagine having to fire someone 20 or 30 times a day, every day. That's the life of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), professional terminator. Bingham flies all over the country (collecting his precious frequent-flier miles and Hilton points), firing and laying-off workers for companies ill-equipped or ill-prepared to do so themselves. Along the way he meets Alex (Vera Farmiga), a similarly-driven, miles-obsessed, commitment-phobic businesswoman and the attraction is mutual and immediate. Meanwhile, Bingham's boss has hired Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a woman fresh out of college with some new ideas about how to change the firing business in big ways. Bingham doesn't like anyone trying to mess with the no-ties "empty backpack" life he's built for himself, and sets out to show Natalie how things are done, and why his way is the right way.

The humor in Up in the Air is at times riotously, laugh-out-loud funny, and at other times very dark and ironic. In today's economy, a movie about an otherwise-likable guy whose job is to lay off people is a risky concept, but the cast and crew manage to pull it off with flying colors. Everything about this movie is spot-on: the pacing is perfect, the dialogue is funny and clever, and the acting is compelling. As you settle into the plot and you think you know what will happen, Up in the Air manages to pack in a few surprises.

Ryan Bingham is the kind of role George Clooney excels at. He has an ironic sense of humor and is thoroughly likeable despite his chosen profession. Though he's taken great pains to avoid any connections and strings in his life, it comes as no surprise to the audience (and somewhat of a surprise to him) when it turns out there are connections he wants to maintain.

First-time nominee Vera Farmiga's Alex is the perfect love interest for Bingham. She is exactly the kind of woman he thinks he wants: driven, workaholic, jet-setting, and seemingly not a big fan of commitment. Her character's twists are made all the more surprising by how well we think we know her, and that is a testament to Farmiga's talents.

Anna Kendrick is the emotional powerhouse of the film. For much of the film's first act, she is the perky, ambitious, madly-in-love young 20-something. As her fortunes take a turn, though, her mood changes dramatically. Her hotel lobby break-down is the kind that Academy Awards voters love.

Up in the Air is a thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining, and at times unpredictable film; all of its nominations are fully deserved. Though not the favorite, George Clooney could upset and win Best Actor. Up in the Air's best, and perhaps only, chance at winning an Academy Award is in the Best Adapted Screenplay category where it is the slight favorite.

Grade: A+

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