Up In The Air deals with nothing less than what sooner or later becomes the central issue in each of our lives--and that's commitment. And some peripheral issues, like the bad economy, and empathy--or lack thereof-- for one's fellow human beings.
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is hired out by one company to fire employees of other companies when their own bosses are too lily-livered to do it themselves. Nice job. It's an itinerant lifestyle, and we see a lot of Bingham breezing through airports with as much aplomb as one can do these days when one is subjected to everything short of a full body cavity search before boarding a plane. His life connections--like the brief encounters with the unfortunate working stiffs he leaves scattered in his wake like so much jetsam--are mostly superficial.
It's in this setting that Ryan meets his female counterpart, Alex, (Vera Farmiger--of the remarkable physique) who also racks up the frequent flyer miles, (and men along the way) and before you can say WE ARE NOW READY FOR BOARDING they're in the sack together beginning something of a free-spirited affair.
But there's turbulence ahead when Natalie, (Anna Kendrick) a young upstart in the company, comes up with a way to streamline the firing process. Hey, yeah...we'll do it by remote teleconference (as if the process weren't impersonal enough) and save all that mad dashing about the country! Ryan has some distinct feelings about this, which may have a little to do with not stripping people who've given seventeen years of loyal service to their company of ALL their dignity--but it has more to do with him becoming obsolete, as well as losing out on his fly-by-night trysts with Alex.
Kendrick is effective as the little corporate snot-nose you'd like to say to: "Hey kid, you're shoelace is untied!" Then when she looks down you shove her in the closet and lock the door. She plays a nice counterpoint to Clooney's character, the seasoned veteran who's out to show her a thing or two about the business. Farmiga's on-screen presence is a testament to the depth and breadth of sex-appeal a mature woman brings to the table.
Up In The Air circles around a bit aimlessly in the first half--until some genuine human warmth emerges--and it transforms into a film both mainstream and thinking audiences (note that I make a distinction) will dig. There's a sweet subplot around the impending wedding of Ryan's sister--an experience which serves to jolt him into an awareness that he may want something deeper out of life after all. When he actually wants something bad enough to go after it, the tipping point is reached, suggesting that no matter how far ANY of us may go to isolate ourselves, we're human and we'd be eating out of his/her hand if the right one came along. (And I do believe this.)
But if you're fond of resolute endings, Up In The Air may leave you somewhere in the clouds. Nevertheless, don't be surprised if multiple Oscar nominations are encountered along its flight path.
GRADE : A-