Up in the Air (2009; dir. Jason Reitman) is certainly stylish. It reminded me in ways of Stephen Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can (2002), though this film explores issues of substance too: unemployment, the increasing tendency of business to treat employees like faceless integers, the conflict between family and career. The film is well made. The acting by the three principals, George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick, is certainly good, and Clooney is especially effective as the corporate terminator Ryan Bingham who travels from one assignment to another, informing employees in the most positive, cheerful, and upbeat way imaginable (but working mainly from a script he has long had memorized) that the company they work for no longer requires their services. Clooney loves his job. He lives in the airplanes and hotel rooms that are the warp and woof of his work. His real apartment, which we see only once in the film, is empty and bare. He has no settled life at all.
The crisis arises when Bingham’s firm hires a young woman (Kendrick) who convinces the owner that terminations can be as effectively carried out via long-distance video as in person. This would save the firm big money in travel and lodging expenses. Around the same time, Bingham becomes involved with a woman he meets in his travels. Like him, she seems to have no home, is always on the move. He invites her to accompany him to the wedding of his sister’s daughter. Later he discovers that she has a settled life with a husband and children. These three events reveal to Clooney the emptiness of his life.
This discovery may be a big one for Clooney’s character, but it could hardly be for the viewer, who is probably aware from an early moment that Clooney’s job is one no one would want, that he deceives himself into believing it allows him to engage personally with his clients, that his lifestyle is no life at all.
I enjoyed the film but found it to be an exercise in emptiness. You could see the conclusion coming a mile away.