Best Picture Profile: Up in the Air

Directed by: Jason Reitman

Company: Paramount Pictures / The Montecito Picture Company

Runtime: 108 minutes


The film is about Ryan Bingham, a downsizer, someone who is hired by a company to go to offices to fire their employees and present them their options after they have left the company. In the height of the recession, this is where he works the most.

He meets a lot of people, especially in the firing process, but actually, he comes as isolated. He doesn’t have strong bond with his family, and his potential mate has started seeing another man. In other words, his job was his life.

Unfortunately though, his company experiments on revolutionizing the downsizing process by using the internet as a tool for the company to cut costs. The proponent is the smart and alert college grad Natalie Keener. Of course, Ryan is worried because it serves as a threat to his industry. For him to be able to show Natalie his industry and the things going on in it, he brings her on the spot, face to face, with the to-be-fired employees.

In accordance to that, he meets Alex Goran, a frequent flyer like him. They seem to outwit each other at first, but rather starts a casual relationship with her. As he starts to develop his relationship to people, he starts to connect to Alex with more time.

I don’t know where did its steam go after Avatar reigned at the box-office and The Hurt Locker reignited its buzz in the awards season. It’s such a strong contender before that.

The film brings such coldness and warmth throughout it.

The direction is very subtle, and it matches the very subtle issue it needs to tackle. There is the mastery of the craft of direction without having the feeling of it’s all handled. It moves in a relaxed pace but the direction never makes it to a point that it’s sloppy or lazy. You see, it’s a calm film, and the story really has the potential to become a bore, but there is this subtlety in movement of the film that is almost unnoticeable, but you know you are in a drive. The movie never felt rushed or dragging.

The direction’s subtlety is its biggest asset. It has a lot of directorial greatness in it, maybe some of the moving scenes, maybe some of the dialogue scenes, but the movie is underlined with that feeling of closeness to the audience. It never becomes isolating because of the fact that the direction gives the right pace for the characters to have their own time.

The downsizing scenes are also some of the nice directorial touches in the film because there is this feeling of restlessness in it. Some of them are funny, but mostly hard-hitting because of the honesty placed in it. Whenever there is the firing scene, the camera is set to be in still position, but except for some small movements, it is just there, giving us the feeling of being trapped in there. The scenes are unpleasant in nature because of the disturbing truth it anchors, but it was so well-handled that you can watch it pleasantly but you know that it’s not pleasant. It doesn’t deceive or fool you; the movie just have the meticulous eye in the subject matter.

The screenplay is near-perfect. The construction of the film is all-around plausible, bringing us in-the-place with its realistic tone of dialogue without even losing the cinematic touch and its genre which is dark comedy. The slickness it brings to the movie is remarkable as it serves the soul of the movie which is the business-minded central character.

Of course, some lines just make me want to laugh out loud, but that is not really the point of it. The screenplay brings us to the mood of the film. In terms of the relationship between Ryan and Alex, there is this mood in the film that can bring us to the sexiness or to the despair of the romance between the two.

It also slowed down a bit in the third half of the film, but it’s because it is the part where we get to know his background as a person, so just noticeable, but not bad.

Nevertheless, the biggest achievement of the screenplay is on how it builds Ryan Bingham as a character in this business world. The character is set to be nothing different – a regular downsizer and frequent flyer – but also, there is something different in him. He doesn’t even dare try to make a connection to other people, but since he meets Alex, his life takes a detour. The transformation of the character as the film progresses and as the relationship deepens is a thing to ponder since it explores the corners of the mind of this character.

The character is not stuck to a point where he just does act. There is a continuous development in it. So, in this point, it thrills the audience not by anything else, but because we know him very well.

Also, the firing scenes are pitch-perfect because we see very different characters, not just a repetition of one another. Every small character is different from the other. One needs money because it is used for their gas and for his kids, one thinks he doesn’t have the reason to wake up if she is fired, one threatens them to jump off a bridge, one asks advice on how is he going to tell the bad news to his children – all of these characters bring a small pinch of realism to the film. The film is soaked in the truths this period of time has, but also, there is the art in it that brings the realism to a cinematic level.

Maybe, the only shortcoming of the screenplay is on how underwritten the character Alex Goran was. Of course, it is a very forgettable one because it is in the character. Nonetheless, it’s one of the best screenplays this year.

The cinematography is excellent as it brings the business mood to the visual part of the film. The editing is masterful as it brings the juice in the film; every single chunk of a shot is so well placed that there is the feeling of the fast lane the central character is in. The music plays a very elemental part in making the film “the film.” The music are so well-picked and brings the core of the film – the continuous movement the movie brings to us.

The film could just have the best acting trio this year.

George Clooney could have just given the performance of his career. This is where his acting strength and charm works so well together. The character demands a lot of internal conflict and stability in it, and he was able to play it so well. Whenever he talks to the employees, there is this sense of coldness in him, but you get the feeling that he does that not because he wanted to but because he needs to be. His character cannot express his emotions because he experiences the blinding effect of being alone. He doesn’t even appreciate the value of family or love.

He was able to comfort the employees in an authoritative but humble way, and not in a way that a shrink would do. He makes it to a point to give the impression that he is not firing people, he is giving them the next step of their lives. Also, the character feels the incapacity to connect. And all of these are all played well by Clooney. By far one of the most subtle acting ever.

Vera Farmiga is as cool as the wind. He brings the stunning sizzle the character keeps inside of her. She plays with him, but she attacks it in a very mature way that you know that she’s playing, and she’s fooling, but not in a childish way. She knows what she is doing. There is also this mystery the character is enveloped in. In all of these, I could say that Farmiga was able to make it look simple. However, simple is not enough for her and even pushes the nature of the performance to a challenge without getting out of the character. Could be underwhelming, but what’s important is that she has mastered the character.

Anna Kendrick is simply fantastic. In her first scenes, he doesn’t know anything from the trade yet that she just graces it with the feeling of being smart. She tries to dominate them, which obviously, Ryan totally disagrees to. And in the film, Natalie is a symbol of the strength of the youth. She is one of the millions of college grads – confident in their capabilities, thinks hey know all – but Kendrick adds a lot of shades to the character – vulnerability. There is a lot of expectations from her since she tries to make a change in an industry, so, she carries all of those character tensions. He could have just given the best female supporting performance of the year.

In two scenes, Kendrick was already able to prove her acting range. First is her own firing to an old employee. She’s game for it, but she’s like a little puppy while she takes over of the proceedings. In this condition, she was forced to see, face-to-face, the hard industry that she tries to revolutionize. It’s a completely devastating scene, and it’s the scene where Kendrick totally dominates the whole scene because Clooney here steps at the background for to have total control. And when she gives this pitying look at the list of all the employees she needs to fire, it’s just so heartbreaking.

Second is the much debated hotel lobby crying scene. Here, Natalie tries to sell the concept of marriage and eventually, love to Ryan but she herself just broke up with his boyfriend through a text message in the cellphone, a perfect irony to what she is trying to do – fire people by the internet. Ryan talks about all people dying alone, and she is jut pounded directly to the heart. Here, she breaks down. It’s just so perfectly played because this scene contains the child in Natalie that she tries to keep throughout the process of his relationship with Ryan. It’s the time where Ryan can already bear the barrier he keeps with people and here, he serves as a surrogate father.

Of course, it’s really a character turn for Ryan, but Kendrick’s Natalie plays a big part in the truth that people can’t really face the “inner child” in all of us. Natalie is a vulnerable person, but only tries to hide it by using his knowledge to cover her weakness. It’s a great turn from Kendrick, and I love her.

Of course, the movie as a whole speaks on a high level of communication and connection lost and a man’s effort to regain it. It’s such an emotionally complex film without being overly emotional.

For this, the movie gets:

What are your thoughts, dear reader?

9 thoughts on “Best Picture Profile: Up in the Air

  1. I did not much care for the film, I actually did not think it was all that smart, or funny. I thought much of it was rather obvious. I thought a particularly poor moment involved some of the firing parts, especially the ending with the women committing suicide over losing her job is pretty stupid actually. I was not impressed by any of the acting especially not Anna Kendrick, who I felt failed at some of the most standard facets of acting.


    • Oh, we differ very much in our view with this film. But I still hope that you will like it if you ever have the chance to revisit it.

      Anyway, what’s your pick for Best Picture from the nominees and outside the nominees included?


  2. I think it made my Top 10 for 2010, but that’s because of the very good screenplay. The direction is good, but maybe too subtle… fine anyway. And I’m far from considering Kendrick perfect; her fake crying scene is distracting. I don’t think any of the supporting actresses deserved a nom.

    But then again, the film IS kind of charming as a whole. and George is so charismatic, even though I have to disagree and say he was slightly better in Michael Clayton. πŸ™‚


  3. Great review! I LOVED Vera Farmiga and the direction was great even though I didn’t love the entire film as a whole. I quite liked Anna Kendrick but I was totally disappointed by her crying scene – you helped me understand it a bit, but I just thought it seemed so fake. Otherwise not a bad movie at all! πŸ™‚


  4. I love this film so much. It’s a shame that it didn’t get the recognition it deserved at the Oscars. It was admittedly a crowded year for its categories, but Reitman really deserved that screenplay Oscar.


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