Up in the Air, directed by Jason Reitman, is one of the very few movies of our time that takes an impersonal look at how a job is done by an individual. Reitman is the one who gave us the brilliant “Thank you for Smoking” in 2005, which talked about the efforts of a lobbyist for a multinational tobacco company.
In this movie, Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) has a job that requires him to travel to employees’ offices across the country and fire them. He calls himself a ‘Termination Facilitator’. His organization has to lay off people but would want to avoid the mess of doing it all themselves, and that’s where Ryan comes in the picture. So, does he like what he’s doing? Yes he does, because the job fits his personal profile. He doesn’t want a home, doesn’t want a family. In fact he gives self-help lectures in which he advises people to try and stay free of as much baggage as possible in their life. And his realistic and immediate goal is to earn as many frequent flier miles as possible, by the virtue of his being air borne more than 250 days a year.
This supposedly cool life he’s enjoying appears threatened by the arrival of a bright and ambitious new graduate Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) who comes up with a revolutionary idea of firing through video chat. This could save the company so many more dollars on travel and living. After considerable debate, it is agreed that both of them hit the road on a few assignments, where he teaches her the ropes.
There’s another woman in Ryan’s life. Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga). She’s also a road warrior, and is in a convenient relationship with Ryan. They meet at available opportunities in hotel suites, have meals together, and act the happy couple without commitment. While it all works for both of them, Ryan’s investment in emotions is yet to come, and he has more revelations lined up for him.
Up in the Air is an extremely well made movie that shows us the way things are, without any sugar coating. Like Pulitzer winning film critic Roger Ebert mentions, the movie ‘takes the trust people once had in their jobs and pulls out the rug’. It is a film almost apt for the time it hit the screens. The great recession of 2008. It’s no surprise that it went on to receive 6 Oscar nominations in the year of its release.