Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by:Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner
Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Amy Morton, Melanie Lynskey
Released: January 14, 2010
Grade: A

Reward programs.  Your thoughts?  They can be a very useful tool for businesses.  They can boost sales and stop loyal customers from checking out the competition.  There’s a benefit for the public too.  If used wisely, you can save a lot of money.  I’ve got at least five cards in my wallet which give me discounts and incentives if I visit certain cinemas.

But can some of these programs do more harm than good?  Jason Reitman’s new film, Up In The Air, has something to say in that regard.  Its central character is Ryan Bingham (Clooney), a successful businessman who is trying to become only the seventh person to reach 10 million frequent flyer miles.  It’s become an obsession for him.  He wants the recognition. He wants the “status”.

So how can one man do so much travel?  Put simply, Ryan’s job is to fire people.  Big companies bring him in when they’re too scared to do it themselves.  Ryan speaks to them in a calm, monotone voice and tells them that they shouldn’t feel upset.  Their sacking is a “wake up call” and they now have the opportunity to do something excitingly different with their lives.  I’m sure there’s merit in that argument but most of those sitting on the opposite side of Ryan’s desk see it as bunch of bullshit.

Given that he spends more than 300 days of his year away from home, it’s no surprise that Ryan’s never had a meaningful relationship.  He’s had his share of casual flings but nothing further.  Ryan is more concerned about his work and the way in which people see him.  He just loves how he can walk to an airline ticket counter, flash his rewards card and save 30 minutes of queue time.  It’s just who he is.

Two women are about to enter the picture which will unsettle Ryan’s comfortable existence.  The first is Alex (Farmiga), a businesswoman he meets in an airport bar.  As they start bragging about the content of the wallets, they realise how much they have in common.  In fact, they couldn’t be any similar.  A quick one night stand in a hotel has the potential to develop into something deeper…

The second woman is a young twenty-something named Natalie Keener (Kendrick).  Ryan prefers to work alone but has been forced to take her on as his assistant after an order from his boss (Bateman).  These two are as different as chalk and cheese.  She tries to maintain a tough persona but Natalie does wear her heart on her sleeve.  She hates having to travel because it means she’ll be away from her boyfriend, with whom she’s deeply in love.

It took a little while to get going but my film’s end, I had much appreciation for Up In The Air.  You’ll have a few laughs but you’ll also be left with a few thoughts to chew on as you leave the cinema.  Some viewers have expressed concerns about the finale but I think it is spot on.  It could not have ended any other way without feeling formulaic.

Hot on the heels of Burn After Reading and Michael Clayton, George Clooney is fast becoming my favourite actor.  He’s got a knack for choosing films with great dialogue and he’s brilliant once again in Up In The Air.  Also impressive were co-stars Vera Farmiga (The Departed) and Anna Kendrick (Twilight).  Their talents are on full display in a memorable scene in an airport lounge where they discuss what they look for in a dream guy.

Writer-director Jason Reitman had been keen to bring the tale to the screen since he first read Walter Kim’s novel.  Reitman has stated that he’s “naturally attracted to tricky characters – difficult characters to humanize.”  You should have a feel for what Reitman’s getting at if you saw his last two movies – the terrific Thank You For Smoking and the amazing Juno (my favourite of 2008).  He was also drawn to the story by what it has to say about obsessive travellers.

I know it’s only January but in twelve months time, Up In The Air can rightly claim itself as one of the year’s best.