Saturday, January 30, 2010

Up in the Air

What's the job no-one likes? Firing people. So Ryan Bingham, (George Clooney) in this smart movie, plays a nation-circling businessmen who has the job of doing the job no-one likes. And he does it well. He fires people for a living, telling them just the right words to calm them down but never getting emotionally involved. He is aiming for an award from the airline he frequents for miles travelled. On one plane journey he is asked where he comes from and he looks around and says, 'Here.' He spends over 300 days a year away from home. His flat looks emptier than a hotel room. His family don't really know him.

Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a young, female employee straight from business school, joins his company and comes up with a plan for Skype-firing people. This puts Bingham's job on the line but he persuades his boss that she needs to go on the road with him to learn the ropes. She appears more emotionally detached even than Bingham but is looking for love in her private life and has followed a boyfriend to her current home town. Bingham falls for another globe-trotting executive, Alex (Vera Farmiqa), as a casual relationship turns serious.

This is a serious movie (from Jason Reitman, the Director of Juno) with great observation about life, some funny moments and many ponderable quotes. Bingham's firm does well in a recession but we see lots of interviews with those who have lost their jobs, wondering what they are going to do, how they will tell the kids etc. Some of the more poignant moments are simply shots of rooms full of unwanted desks and chairs, or open plan offices where work stations have been removed.

At a time of crisis everything can go up in the air. Bingham asks his interviewees, not particularly sincerely, 'Are you going to make this the start of your dreams?' He promises support and follow-up but then disappears as quickly as possible. He knows it's a hollow promise.

All he wants is their desks cleared and their passes handed back.

One interview leads to disaster. When Bingham is asked if he can remember anything unusual about it (we can) he says no. Is this his genuine memory? Has he so distanced himself that nothing strikes him as extraordinary as he delivers the news that wrecks lives? Or is he covering?

What is the value of a human being?
Where do you come from?
How do you handle crisis moments and turning points?
If you are to be made redundant, how would you like it to happen?
From what do you emotionally detach in order to do your job?

Five star first act; four star the rest. See it.

1 comment:

J said...

Yes we enjoyed it too.

But what of the moment when Bingham achieves his target of n million air miles and has the senior captain sit beside him to hand over the award just as he had dreamed about. The total emptiness of Bingham's ambition becomes painfully evident to him. Plenty to ponder from this incident in many contexts.