SMOOTH FLIGHT FOR GEORGE; Clooney Takes to the Skies as a Callous Travelling Businessman in a Slick Romance with a Depressingly Conservative Message; FILM OF THE WEEK

The Evening Standard (London, England), January 15, 2010 | Go to article overview

SMOOTH FLIGHT FOR GEORGE; Clooney Takes to the Skies as a Callous Travelling Businessman in a Slick Romance with a Depressingly Conservative Message; FILM OF THE WEEK


Byline: Andrew O'Hagan

UP IN THE AIR Cert 15, 109 mins ***

GEORGE Clooney is probably the most charming liberal in Hollywood, so why would he choose to star in Jason Reitman's new movie, which could turn out to be the most conservative film of the year? I suppose it could be put down to good, old-fashioned movie-making sense: he thought there could be a great part in it. Marlon Brando didn't hesitate before accepting the lead role in On the Waterfront, nor did Jimmy Stewart before saying yes to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. As a director, Reitman is neither Elia Kazan nor John Ford but he has a similar ability to make tender human dramas that seem larger than their politics.

But are they larger? Juno, the previous, much-lauded, Oscar-winning film from Reitman, was nothing if not an anti-abortion fantasia, a sop to social conservatives everywhere with its quirky central character who learns how to knuckle under to family values. Along with Alexander Payne (Sideways) and Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, School of Rock), Reitman is a chief purveyor of movies which put an "independent" sensibility at the service of confirming all the great American verities about love and responsibility.

None of the slackers gets to slack for long, none of the rebels feels the benefit of their private revolutions, and in the end, as for Juno, life's screw-ups are seen only to be remedied when characters discover their place in the natural order. These are movies that use the counter-culture style to prove the counterculture wrong and, for a generation of film-makers and filmgoers, their soft, familial philosophy has a distinctive whiff of quality.

In Up in the Air, Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a suave fellow who fires people for a living. His job is to fly around America doing the dirty work. He clocks up air miles -- his ambition is to reach a million, gaining him coveted customer loyalty status -- and he has the obsessive-compulsive habits of the single man who finds his routines and his neatness to be the perfect alibi for not being in a relationship. He has no responsibility for anybody else, not even his sister and family, whose wedding plans and messy lives are held at a distance.

Bingham lives at 50,000 feet: nobody can touch him and no emotion can capture him, which is why he is so effective in his job, telling people that their working lives are about to be destroyed.

One night, in the bar of one of his pleasingly identical hotels, he meets a nice-looking woman called Alex (Vera Farmiga), who does the kind of thing he does. For a while she seems like the perfect mate. "Just think of me as you, with a vagina," she says. Alex appears to have what Bingham has -- no personal commitments, a full itinerary and a wallet stuffed with loyalty cards. They meet in several American cities and you see, along the way, that Bingham might be in danger of missing her.

This is nicely played by Clooney, whose shrugging independence of character seems a perfect fit for a man such as Ryan Bingham. …

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