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Up In The Air

Prescient cinema is always a bit tricky. United 93, for example, was, for me, a bit of an abomination, dealing as it did with the doomed occupants of a hijacked flight on that fateful day. There was no need: the film lent nothing to the devastating media reports, the bravery, the poignant horror. It airbrushed events for mass-palatability, for those that couldn’t really be bothered reading a newspaper, God forbid. Here, we have a film about down-sizing, redundancies, economic meltdown and those that capitalise on such devastation. It doesn’t render the job-loss experience as anything other than what it is: confusing and catastrophic. But it does manage to fashion a sophisticated romcom out of the debris.

 

George Clooney is a happily itinerant and un-moored p45 ghoul, paid handsomely to jump on and off planes around the US and fire people (whose responses are jump-cut encapsulated: tearful indignation, perplexed numbness, proud rage, incomprehensibility) and then do it all again, 300+ days a year. Home is whatever hotel room he currently occupies and responsibility and normal life are the preserve of weaklings.

He meets female equivalent Vera Farmiga (superb) in an airport bar and their status-obsessed exchanges lead to a transaction of a non-business kind; they agree to re-rendezvous as and when their schedules tally as they criss-cross the US and each other. Clooney is also soon saddled with the baggage of a zealously blank, icy go-getter type (Anna Kendrick, suitably vapid and reptilian – initially, at least) who he has to ‘show the ropes’ and who has derived a computer-based means of terminating employees without the inconvenience of even addressing them in person. She is a deadweight for about five minutes – they soon thaw each other out. A staple Hollywood tool for achieving this – alcohol – is made good use of.

Clooney also has the looming wedding of his sister to contend with, and the lack of a ‘Plus-one’ on his arm should he trouble himself with attending. Vera Farmiga, anyone?

Clooney and Kendrick go about their work until Kendrick realises she doesn’t have the stomach for it (well, that and her boyfriend dumps her) and Clooney is temporarily grounded as Kendrick’s new idea is jumped on and given the go-ahead. His oft-empty flat is no home but that’s his lot. To refer to the last 10 minutes in any detail or so would reveal and ruin the best hand the film has: you’ll see it coming by then but it’s a strangely downbeat, admirable way to play things out, and it makes sense in a world in which the likes of Clooney and his boss (Jason Bateman playing Patrick Bateman) thrive.

The film feels like the Coen Brothers meets Alexander Payne, and could’ve been a masterpiece, a touchstone for the times, Clooney’s best film, but instead feels like a charming, engaging missed-opportunity that you’ll be more than happy to watch again, partly because, Michael Clayton aside, it has Clooney at his best and partly to recall what actually happens for most of the films’ duration.

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