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UP IN THE AIR
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Danny McBride
Director: Jason Reitman
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 109 Minutes
Release Date: March 9, 2010

Tonight most people will be welcomed home by jumping dogs and squealing kids. Their spouses will ask about their day, and tonight they’ll sleep. The stars will wheel forth from their daytime hiding places. And one of those lights, slightly brighter than the rest, will be my wingtip passing over.”

Film ****

A hilarious comedy, a story true to life, a wholly original character study. Many words can be used to describe Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air. But no matter how you look at it, the final result is always the same; this is a work of pure excellence.

Not many directors are fortunate enough to have such a rock solid streak this early in their career. This is Reitman’s third feature, following Thank You For Smoking and Juno, and it is also the best film he’s made yet. He’s already been compared to that of Billy Wilder, and watching this film you realize why such a comparison is well deserved.

Then you have George Clooney, who for me is the best contemporary leading man in the movies, in a role he was simply born to play. It’s a character that so closely mirrors the actor’s real lifestyle that you wouldn’t want to see any other actor play it. It earned him a much deserved Oscar nomination, and is tied with his work in Michael Clayton as his best to date.

Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a man who literally makes his living through air travel. His job consists of doing the very thing nobody wants to do in the job world; firing people. He is frequently hired by corporate bigwigs too afraid to fire their own employees, and he does it all with a smile on his face.

Ryan also greatly benefits from his travels in that he possesses just about every top of the line membership card for whatever special service he needs. This includes the best rental cars, hotel rooms, plus the advantage of never having to wait in a long line. And because he flies out so much (flying more miles per year than it takes to reach the moon), he is taking the opportunity to rack up the most frequent flyer miles on record.

He also holds a side job as a motivational speaker. The message of his seminars is that all types of relationships and possessions weigh us all down, and to get ahead in life we must do without them. It’s a philosophy he takes to heart, especially in his profession.

But Ryan is about to faced with a possibility he doesn’t much like. His boss (Jason Bateman) is considering putting into action a new job technique; firing employees over the internet. It’s a concept proposed by Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a new addition to the company and recent Cornell graduate.

The goal is of course to save money, but Ryan is way passionate about the skill that goes into the way he does it. Plus, he doesn’t want to be grounded since his home is in the skies and on the road. But in the meantime, and with the online concept in the development stages, his boss insists that Natalie accompany him on the road for a series of firings so that she can get a taste of how the job is currently done.

One of the biggest delights, in a movie filled with them, is the byplay between Clooney and the absolutely radiant Anna Kendrick once they are on the road. A scene where Ryan explains to her the rules of proper airport etiquette, starting with the right amount of luggage to carry, is one of the funniest moments I’ve seen in years. And the script is brilliant in how it takes the formula of the experienced pro teaching the newcomer the tricks of the trade and plays it out in such a unique and fresh way, that you entirely forget about the formula.

They don’t just disagree on how the job should be done, but also on everything in general. She has a boyfriend and believes in the idea of love, something of which Ryan isn’t sold on. He does, however, enjoy a casual fling every so often with Alex (Vera Farmiga), who also makes her living by traveling.

There are so many great scenes in the film, but the perhaps the one show-stopping moment is when Ryan, Alex and Natalie decide to crash a corporate party at a hotel. Natalie, in particular, is in need of letting loose having just been dumped by her boyfriend via text message. We then see the three of them party down, not to mention dance to a live performance of Young MC’s “Bust a Move” which is simply a joyous moment.

And though the film is mainly about each of the three central characters, the main crust of the story is about the possibility of Ryan giving into both love and normal human connection. He admits he never wants to settle down, though as the film progresses we can see Alex is helping to change that. Ryan also remains far apart from his family, despite being able to make it to his sister’s wedding.

You often here the phrase “a movie for our time” tossed around more than it should. But truthfully, I can’t find a better series of words to perfectly describe Up in the Air. Few films are capable of hitting no false beats…and this, my friends, would be one of them.

Video ****

Paramount delivers one purely amazing looking Blu-ray presentation here! The rich image detail starts from the opening credits and never lets up one bit. The striking work of cinematographer Eric Steelberg looks nothing short of fantastic in the 1080p. There are many eye-catching moments, specifically the breathtaking overhead shots of each city Ryan flies to. And though the color palette is mostly limited to blacks, grays and steel cool blues, each form of color appears in the most superb form possible. Tremendous job!

Audio ***1/2

Blu-ray continues to impress me in how they handle the performance of dialogue-driven films, which this is first and foremost. The DTS HD mix is solid in delivering each spoken word in clear perfection. The sound also gets benefited by the unique score by Rolfe Kent, as well as such moments as the hotel party sequence. Other scenes, like one where a firing does take place via computer, offer some sound surprises of their own.

Features ***

Included is a commentary with director/co-writer Jason Reitman, cinematographer Eric Steelberg and first assistant director Jason Blumenfield, a brief featurette titled “Shadowplay Studio: Before the Story”, which profiles the company that designed the film’s awesome opening credit sequence. There are also fourteen Deleted Scenes, Storyboards, an American Airlines prank, a music video for the great song “Help Yourself” by Sad Brad and a Theatrical Trailer and Teaser, both of which represent how to properly market a film in an age when so many are mis-marketed.

Summary:

Up in the Air is so many different things, and all of them done with sheer brilliance. This is one of the best true-to-life comedies you will ever see. The fantastic George Clooney soars once again in an outstanding performance, and Jason Reitman further illustrates what a gifted storyteller he is.

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