There are those who like to travel for business and those who can’t stand the hassle. Then there is Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) in Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air.” Bingham travels 300 days a year as he roams the country firing people on behalf of bosses who can’t muster the courage to do it themselves. Bingham loves it so much, in fact, that he makes the security checkpoint nightmare into a ballet, of sorts, as he slips off his loafers while simultaneously extracting his laptop from his roller-board suitcase. He seems to enjoy it. Perhaps, when compared to his job, the sport of traveling is fun in the world of Ryan Bingham, professional hatchet man. He belongs to all of the rewards plans, mileage plans, and frequent guest plans of American Airlines, Hertz and Hilton. At American they “know” him by name. Bingham prefers 35,000 feet above the earth rather than terra firma. He prefers the microcosm of the multi-terminal airport to the real world.
Bingham’s world comes perilously close to crashing to a earth when his boss wants to cut back on travel to save a few bucks during the financial crisis that faces the nation. The film shows the real victims of last year’s financial crisis–the many men and women who lost their once-solid jobs as companies threw off employees by the thousands. Bingham faces the possibility of staying put in Omaha where he would fire people via video-teleconference. Here is where the film is truly brilliant in its exploration of “what it’s all about.” Bingham objects to the teleconference firing on the grounds that its not humane and doesn’t provide the same amount of comfort to the recently dismissed. On one level the audience, along with Binghan’s boss (played very well by Jason Bateman), can roll its collective eyes. But Bingham actually does have a heart hidden behind the traveller’s facade, and his heart makes this film one of the best I’ve seen in a long, long time.
Unlike some recent good films such as “Where the Wild Things Are” and “The Road,” this film makes no mistakes, has no flaws, and no loose ends. There is nothing we have to forgive Reitman of in order to enjoy the rest of the film. This film sets itself a pretty high bar in that it wants to take on the question of what life is all about. According to Reitman, life is about relationship–a certain kind of relationship. I don’t want to give too much away, so that’s all I will say at this point. Perhaps in a few weeks, once everyone has had a chance to see it, then we can discuss it in these virtual pages.