★ ★ ★ ★
It is rare to find a movie about a complex political issue that isn't either simplistic, heavy handed, or just plain boring. Jason Reitman has established himself as one of the few directors capable of making these movies. On the surface, Up in the Air seems like a mess of cliches. In the first few minutes, you could be forgiven for thinking you were sitting through a Michael Moore movie. However, Reitman isn't out to create villains. His characters are more than capable of prosecuting themselves.
Reitman has a rare gift for using cliches against themselves. Reitman uses potentially cliched situations in order to challenge the preconceptions of the audience. Life does not resemble a linear narrative, and Reitman doesn't try to convince us otherwise. Like a serialised novel, the film could have satisfactorily ended several times after the first hour and a half. Yet, each prospective ending was better than the next.
Some critics lamented the tone of the film, noting that it moved sporadically between seriousness and lightheartedness. This is actually one of the film's great strengths. Rather than the standard melodramatic fare, the film portrays the vicissitudes of a man balancing a potentially depressing career with the luxurious, though isolated lifestyle that it affords him. The contrast between Ryan and his provincial family nicely illustrated the tensions in his lifestyle. When you are at home everywhere, you are at home nowhere. Placelessness is his salvation, and his curse.
Clooney deserves serious Oscar consideration. Though Ryan is still at the top of his game, Clooney conveys a sense of gradual decay, or maturing--you can never quite tell which. Anna Kendrick was excellent as the young apprentice. When Natalie appears on the scene, she threatens to render Ryan's entire lifestyle obsolete. The shrewd, yet naive Natalie never lets us forget that she is the girl that moved to Omaha for a boy. We are constantly wondering if she is in over her head, but she seems to have a resilience beyond her years.
This is Reitman's third politically relevant film, and certainly his best. Just like in his earlier films Thank You For Smoking, and Juno, Reitman doesn't go out of his way to score political points. He creates an inherently political situation, and let's us judge for ourselves. That is the mark of a mature filmmaker.