By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 4, 2009
George Clooney has been pretty busy lately, between "The Men Who Stare at Goats" and the animated feature "Fantastic Mr. Fox." Both of those are enjoyable enough larks, but "Up in the Air" finds Clooney in a role he seems to have been born for. There are fewer things more sublime than Clooney in his comfort zone -- think "Michael Clayton" -- and when it happens, the best advice is to sit back, relax and enjoy the flight.
In this case, literally: In "Up in the Air" Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizer who spends most of his life in airplanes and likes it that way. When he's not busy firing people, he's giving inspirational lectures in which he strews such pearls of wisdom as "Moving is living" and "We're not swans, we're sharks." Director Jason Reitman ("Thank You for Smoking," "Juno") has adapted Walter Kirn's novel basically by throwing it out, keeping Bingham's character and inventing two more, a sexy fellow road warrior named Alex (Vera Farmiga) and a young whippersnapper named Natalie (Anna Kendrick), whose ideas about teleconferencing may do unto Ryan what he's been doing unto others all these years.
"Up in the Air" is a smart, alert, supremely entertaining movie, in which Reitman toggles between comedy and drama, satire and soul with the aplomb of hero pilot Chesley Sullenberger. For the most part, the film is a swiftly moving picaresque through corporate offices and hotel lobbies, but then Reitman slows things down for a lovely sequence set at a Midwestern wedding. Perhaps his best move -- as if perfect casting, brilliant writing and flawless tonal control weren't enough -- was beginning and ending the movie with interviews with the recently downsized, most of them real-life. These sequences give what could have been a pleasurable enough bagatelle a thoroughly unexpected air of gravitas and pathos. "Up in the Air" is a timeless movie that's utterly of its time -- a movie of humor, heart and mind.
**** R. At AMC Loews Georgetown. Contains profanity and some sexual content. 109 minutes.