The past few years have given cause to re-evaluate George Clooney as an actor rather than just a movie-star and those that continue to doubt should take the time to see Up In The Air not only to prove that – yes, he really can act – but also because it’s one of the best comedy-drama films to come out for a long time, not only because of Clooney (who is the stand-out in the cast) but because everyone seems committed to delivering something that actually has something to say without being preachy.
In fairness it should be pointed out that the role is tailored to maximise the strengths of Clooney – it’s difficult to imagine any of the current crop of A-list actors being able to play the role – in that it requires someone we can actively like to play someone who initially comes off as a bit of an arsehole. A man seemingly unwilling to commit to life properly, forever on the move and living in temporary space (airports, hotels, offices and most importantly planes) as a means of detaching himself from emotion it would initially appear that this is a “life-lesson” film in which he’ll learn the error of his ways – except it isn’t really (there is an element of that) and by the end we’re acutely aware that more than anyone else in the film he’s acutely aware of the emotions that make people tick.
Clooney isn’t the sole reason to watch this film however, with both Vera Farmiga & Anna Kendrick provide a much needed counter to his screen dominance as “the woman who may possibly change him” and “the protégé” respectively – except it soon becomes clear that no-one in this film is exactly what they seem (and this in turn lends itself to one of the most heart-breaking twists for a long time) – although interestingly they also exist as separate characters rather than foils for the Clooney charm. Elsewhere the cast is recognisable faces playing key supporting parts, most interestingly the always great value J K Simmons as the victim of one of Clooney’s pep-talks.
The interesting aspect of this film is the way that it subverts our expectations. At the beginning it’s hard to believe we’ll sympathise with a man who makes people redundant for a living, but it soon becomes clear that he sees this not only as a job but as a way of trying to help people through one of the most stressful situations they will experience. He understands this more than anyone else, although he seems reluctant to admit it to anyone else in case it is seen as a sign of weakness.
The timing of this is of course interesting, although the film has been in development for well over five years so isn’t quite as bitingly topical as it initially seems, however Reitman intercuts interviews with people who’ve recently been made redundant as a means of pointing out that it needn’t be the end of the world, there are other options (the closest thing to a life lesson the film approaches).
As a whole Up In The Air is as good an example of “The little film that could” that you’re likely to see for a long time – it’s clearly been released now to maximise impact during award season. This isn’t to say it’s po-faced and serious though, indeed the film bounces along on a sense of charm that it’s hard not to warm to. It’s also wonderfully constructed, with all of the flab cut from it to leave a tight, well-sprung film of less than two hours length (a rarity in awards season) – the script really is as good as they come. More interesting is the way that Reitman has progressed on a technical level, delivering a film that moves from cold, stark & crisp architectural spaces at the beginning to warmer climes towards the end, even as the mood of the film begins to change (another example of subversion within this film). In the space of three films he’s become a director to watch, almost a less self-consciously hip version of Wes Anderson, albeit without the constant repetition of themes.
But more than anything the reason to see this film is Clooney – it may be remembered as one of those performances that was brushed under the carpet by a showier piece. Expect him to lose to Jeff Bridges come Oscar night, but expect everyone to say it should have been his year in years to come.