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Saturday, 15 May 2010

Of course, we only picked Up In the Air (2009, dir. Jason Reitman) off the shelf because of George Clooney, who plays professional human resource consultant Ryan Bingham. Little did we know that Vera Famiga, who plays the seductive Alex Goran, and Anna Kendrick, who plays the purposeful young up-and-comer Natalie Keener, would shine even brighter than the headline star.

Keener turns the movie's path radically off course when she collapses in Bingham's arms in the middle of an airport (see pic) after her boyfriend ditches her. After all, she had settled in Omaha, where Bingham lives and where his company is headquartered, because she wanted to be with him.

Prior to this point, the movie seemed to be about the GFC. As soon as the young woman unburdens herself, the movie starts to be about "what matters in life". It's not long before we're leaving the GFC behind and attending Bingham's sister's wedding in Wisconsin, where the groom has cold feet.

Goran and Bingham are both high-flyers. They're addicted to amassing frequent-flyer miles. They're totally au fait with the rental car companies and the hotel chains. They are seasoned out-of-home road warriors. Only, Bingham starts to have second thoughts about the bachelor lifestyle. Can he convince Goran to take the plunge? It's one of the movie's most dramatic moments.

The death by suicide of one of the people Keener and Bingham fire is hardly as impressive. This says something about the priorities of the movie's designers. It also says something about the fact that everything is about Bingham: the decent man doing a very unpopular job.

We learn just how decent he is when we find out that his beliefs - he regularly goes on the lecture circuit to tell conference-goers how to remove burdens from their lives - are sincerely held. The lectern is where he has his epiphany - and runs away from the listening crowd to pursue another dream.

Up In the Air is an engaging film that takes a look at "the rat race" and how people find a place for themselves in society. The people Bingham and Keener fire are often the ones who have never really tried, it seems. Keenan is young, she's 23, and when she leaves the company and Omaha she soon finds her feet. Bingham gets his 10 million frequent-flyer miles, the gold card, the perks.

But when you're up in the air it's often difficult to know by looking at the back of their heads who is happy and who is just going through the motions. Bingham gets to follow his dream, and it's one that runs on kerosene. Pity the polar bears.

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