It won’t be long before a ‘transition specialist’, a guy hired by US companies to do the dirty job of personally telling an employee that he has lost his job, will be outsourced to India. But for now, it is Ryan Bingham (Clooney) who messes up his hands and his mind, up in the air and travelling to cities across America, doing the hatchet job.
The perks include clocking up millions of miles for frequent flyer status and occasionally sleeping with a woman (Vera Farmiga) who describes herself as just like him, but with a vagina. Clearly, Bingham is exceptionally well suited to his job because he has no excess baggage in emotions, family and friends. His technique is to suggest to fired employees that one, it could be worse and, two, see hope in this sacking as it could just be the opportunity to change your life.
A soul-to-soul salesman of what he knows to be bullshit, Bingham has an understudy, a girl called Natalie (Anna Kendrick), who holds up the mirror to him now and then. She has human feelings, an unfortunate condition to suffer from in this occupation, and their mentor/apprentice relationship is supposed to enlighten us about director Jason Reitman’s perspective on the tough times we live in.
It doesn’t, and we come out of Up in the Air with the feeling of having seen a con job on a con man, presented as a movie of substance about the psychological impact of the recession. In fact, the documentary-style framing of comments from victims laid off are sickening because they are all about Bingham’s ‘cool’ under pressure and not about the employees. The focus is on how well Clooney plays this vulture, and how great the actor looks as he ages.
Does the director even mention the greed and fraud that led to the lay-offs? He does not. The movie airbrushes its way past the management of the companies that hire Bingham to fire. We hardly see them. Which side is Reitman on anyway?