Clooney and Reitman Make a Connection”
by Scott Mantz

“Up in the Air”
George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, Vera Farmiga
Directed by Jason Reitman

A match made in first-class! George Clooney and Vera Farmiga have a jet-setting romance in “Up in the Air”

“Up in the Air” soars on so many emotional levels, I don’t even know where to begin.  Maybe I should start with the 34th Toronto International Film Festival, where an audience full of jaded industry types let down their guard, embraced the movie and erupted into unanimous applause at the end of this deeply poignant and very funny 2-hour masterpiece.  Such a reaction is rare at stuffy press screenings, which speaks volumes about its merits.

That’s when this year’s Toronto Film Festival further solidified its already rock-solid reputation as a launching pad for Awards Season.  In fact, not only is Jason Reitman’s third movie as a director (after 2005’s “Thank You for Smoking” and 2007’s “Juno”) number one on the runway for Best Picture and Best Director, but additional nominations for Best Actor, Screenplay and maybe even two for Supporting Actress are also a foregone conclusion.

In “Up in the Air,” George Clooney gives one of his strongest performances yet as Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizer who travels 322 days out of the year.  He builds up frequent flyer miles, stays at posh hotels and packs everything he needs into a carry-on bag.  It’s an efficient lifestyle with no strings attached, but when he’s faced with the prospect of being downsized himself, he finally begins to ponder the consequences of living the high life with no excess baggage.

“Up in the Air” may be an existential dramedy about a man forced to re-evaluate his purpose in life, but given the sorry state of the economy — where far too many laid-off workers have been forced to ponder the same fate — it’s also a profound movie for our times.  Indeed, many of the film’s most powerful moments come during unscripted scenes, when ordinary Americans weigh in on the emotional devastation of losing a job.

The irony is that Ryan actually believes he’s making a difference by lowering the boom with face-to-face confrontations, rather than by email, which is what’s being proposed by an aggressive young efficiency expert (Anna Kendrick).  Such a move would virtually eliminate the need for Ryan’s position, but it’s not entirely clear if Ryan believes that his job really matters, or if he’s simply scared to death of losing his identity.

It’s a complex role, and George Clooney plays it perfectly.  In fact, never before has Clooney conveyed so much emotional depth, resulting in an unforgettable performance that’s commanding, charming, vulnerable and heartbreaking.  Just as impressive is Anna Kendrick (“Twilight”), who holds her own with Clooney and gives a spectacular breakout performance, while Vera Farmiga (“The Departed”) is just as terrific as Clooney’s corporate traveling partner-in-crime.

The sky’s the limit in every way with “Up in the Air,” thanks to Jason Reitman’s insightful, honest and well-written screenplay (co-written with Sheldon Turner), which is based on the novel by Walter Kirn.  And as a director, Reitman — an Oscar-nominee for “Juno” — continues to grow and mature in leaps and bounds.  If the film’s Ryan Bingham is trying to figure out his purpose in life, Reitman’s is perfectly clear: to keep making great movies.