- Matt Stuttler
Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air is a depressing yet humorous look at the state of humanity in the current economic depression. Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney, is employed by a company whose job is to do exactly what most corporations fear to do themselves: notify the company’s employees that they are fired. This occupation keeps Clooney in the air flying from city to city in order to perform his dirty deed most every day of the year. This means a life of hotel living, efficient traveling habits, and a general (yet clearly welcome) sense of isolation in Clooney’s life. His cycle of sky high living is interrupted by the introduction of two female characters: the first a fellow frequent flier that becomes a love interest Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) and the second a recently graduated fresh face Natalie Keener ( Anna Kendrick) that tries to change the way Clooney’s company runs.
Based on a comic novel by Walter Kirn, the film analyzes Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham’s interaction with these two females. Bingham’s main conflict occurs when Natalie convinces the company’s director (Jason Bateman) to halt the flights of all employees, causing Bingham to feel utterly “grounded.” In one last desperate effort to maintain his flighty life, Bingham must take Natalie on his flights to show the need for his job. Up in the Air has dozens of scenes of people being fired by the protagonists, each one reacting in a different way. Some act on in anger, throwing things and threatening suicide while others simply weep. The deeper into the movie you go, the more empty the office buildings become due to the corporate downsizing. Bingham manages to console and even help some of these recently fired people into continuing on in their lives even without the stability of their former jobs.
The film itself is sadly beautiful, with hues of blues and sharp blacks protruding shot after gorgeous shot. Many scenes take place in airport terminals and office buildings, which are symbols of efficiency and business, but later become symbols of desperation and abandonment. Much of the film was shot in St Louis, so chosen by Jason Reitman because “…St. Louis has so many offices available to shoot in because all these companies have ceased to exist.” He went on to expound on why St Louis was the perfect choice for the majority of the filming, saying, “I love the extras in St. Louis. You know they're curious about the process, they love the process they are disappointed when the day ends. L.A. extras are disenchanted with the entire film business. But more importantly, it was a city that hadn't been shot by many movies and because of that I felt like I got to be one of the first to shoot a lot of locations and the people are lovely."
Another great part of Up in the Air is the realism it captures. Many of the minor characters were extras pulled off the street, and some of the firing scenes involved actual recently fired workers. Reitman had this to say about the process, “We put ads out in local papers in St. Louis and Detroit looking for people who had lost their job and were willing to go on camera and talk about their experience. From there we chose 60 people, 22 of which are… in the finished movie. They would come in sit at a table, we would interview them about what it's like to lose your job and be searching for purpose in this economy and we would fire them on camera.”
Up in the Air presents a realistic, slightly optimistic look into the current state of the US with both wit and satire. Be sure to check it out this weekend at the Globe Theatre!