Review #9 – Up in the Air

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Bill Simmons (Page 2 writer for ESPN.com) equates different game situations to what he calls “Levels of Losing”, each one is a different level of loss that your own sports team goes through now and again. Specifically, there are (in his most recent update) 16 levels of loss, Ranging from the “Princeton Principle”, when your team is expected to lose the big game against a vastly more talented foe, all the way to “Stomach Punch” (The sudden gut punch situation that leave you breathless, in writhing pain with no idea what you do next) and The “Goose/Maverick Tailspin” (taken from Top Gun, it is when you are watching terrible things unfold with no power to stop them, yet you’re along for the ride because your a part of this en masse).

The reason I bring these are up is because I see a personal connection with the people Ryan Bingham (Played by George Clooney) meets with daily face one of those two inevitable ends. I have been there in both – One job I watched it for 2 weeks going down the drain and could have possibly stopped it by begging and pleading for my life, the other was as harsh as a straight shot of moonshine down a sober man’s throat – harsh, burning, gut wrenching to the core. Your job is your relationship, for better or worse – sometimes it leaves you, sometimes you leave it. Sometimes it is amicable; most of the time, someone is left in pain.

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Clooney plays a Termination specialist (Jokingly referred to in the office as “Terminators”) flying around the country firing people from their jobs for companies he is contracted to do terminations for. He spends 300+ days a year on the road (he states that the previous year he spent only 43 days in his apartment). he keeps everything separated – the people he sees in a day he will never see again, never stays in the same city 2 nights in a row, is always on the move isolated from the rest of the world, even a stranger to his own family.

I sat here, enthralled by all this and moved by my own sense having been on the other side of this and wondered: Why is Clooney nominated for an academy award? I wondered this for exactly 45 minutes and 30 seconds. Finally I see – Clooney gives a speech about how having relationships with anyone can weigh you down. Funny and impassioned (in a presenter-esque way) my first instinct was this was George Clooney’s “Greed” Speech (Parallel between Michael Douglas in his Academy Award winning role as Gordon Gecko in 1987’s “Wall Street”)

It was as if my eyes had opened.

I felt like I looked at Clooney differently for the rest of the film. Finally, for the first time, I can see his solace, his vulnerability, his sorrow, his sweet and poignant side that I have been waiting for years to see. I have known he has has a role like this in him, and I simply cry out for “More!” – though his role didn’t change much begining to end, it is instead you change perceptions for the better.

Jason Reitman has a touch as a director not often seen in this day and age. Young, Still evolving, he is learning how to let the seen grow on his own – the screenplay is the seed, the talent is the water and fertilizer, he is simply the gardener, letting the flower bloom. He adds a soft touch and grace to this, allowing it to take you emotionally through the story, not just being wrapped up in the characters.

Vera Farmiga (as Alex Goran) and Anna Kendrick (as Natalie Keener) do well sharing not only the screen but occasionally stealing the spotlight from Clooney (not an easy task) but they are not academy worth in these roles. Though both strong and capable, neither is true an Oscar worthy performance.

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Those of us (and I certainly hope I am not the only one) who can remember when Planes, Trains and Automobiles came out, remember the follies of travel well; this film takes up back with fond memories to that time. 23 years later, we finally have a film worth to live up to that. A finely woven story, with solid to superb performances with only the hint of touches needed by the director.

Even now, 1 hour after the film ended, I still have these swirling emotions inside, and a tear in my eye – I might need to watch it again just to try to figure out why.

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