While films can often act as an escape from reality, two hours for the viewer to check their minds at the door and lose themselves in an over-the-top action piece or in a "dreams come true" romantic comedy. Once in a while, a movie comes along though, that reminds us what real life is all about; sometimes it's happy, mundane, funny, or downright sad; occasionally it's all those things at once. Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air" is a reminder of the reality the movies sometimes like to gloss over. It's a real film that does a tremendous job of entertaining you, but on the same page, reminding you how complicated and painful life can be.
The film is dominated by its star, George Clooney who plays Ryan Bingham, a man who nearly lives perpetually on the road he views sparse trips to his barren one-bedroom apartment, as many professional would view business trips. On the surface he is a confident, charming man, content with a career based on professionally firing people. When his own existence is threatened by a young upstart, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), both we and Natalie get to see there is far more to this man than what he would initially like you to believe. As we follow the master and pupil, we encounter Bingham's polar opposite family, Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), a seemingly kindred spirit Bingham maintains a convenient relationship with, and the "little people" in the wake of Bingham's work
The heart and soul of the film, is not a wise pro teaching the rookie the ropes, but the gradual glimpses at the real Ryan Bingham, the man likely only comes out at night, when alone in one of numerous hotel rooms. As the film progresses we see, despite the horrible nature of his job, he's the best one for it. In one of the film's standout scenes, he provides hope to the most hopeless of men (J.K. Simmons in a brief, but fantastic appearance). It's never stated, but it's very obvious, that these moments for Bingham make the job feel purposeful.
Despite the fantastic performances, from not only Clooney, but also the rest of the cast, "Up in the Air" can be a tough film to stomach. As the film progresses, and the viewer eases into the comfortable world of escapism, Reitman hits us with harsh reminders of just how unexpectedly cruel life can be. Reitman uses real people (save for a few notable famous faces) in the scenes where Bingham and Keener have to do what they do best, and it puts a very real face on an issue reduced to numbers and anecdotes by the news media. Clooney continues to impress by conveying great emotion with little to no dialogue; this film is a showcase for his underlying talent that often doesn't get utilized in many of his films, where his charm is enough to send the crowd home happy. His strongest work here often sprouts up during scenes that are incredibly painful to watch unfold. These scenes are blunt and to the point, with little to no melodrama and make the thought of watching the film again, somewhat daunting.
"Up in the Air" is far from the flashiest film of the year; it doesn't have alien mech suits fighting mercenaries nor a delightfully wicked Nazi that you feel bad for loving. There are many films that have come out this year I'd instantly watch again, but none of them feel as real and human as "Up in the Air." It made me feel real emotion; from getting a glimpse at those the faces behind the numbers to seeing a man try his hardest to hide his struggle with evaluating the life he's made for himself and whether it is really fulfilling. "Up in the Air" is simply, the best film of 2010.