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Heroes of the Zeroes: Up in the Air

by on November 14, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Up in the Air”
Rated R
2009

Incisive and occasionally sad, 2009’s “Up in the Air” captured the zeitgeist of the late-Zeroes’ tectonically shifting economics — during which a defeated-business death march made it hard to know where you’d see yourself in five minutes, let alone five years.

But Jason Reitman’s generous, rich, rewarding tragicomedy of occupational dissatisfaction and unease will still wow viewers even after (hopeful) economic recovery.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a samurai of suave severance, flown cross-country to sack people using the cadence of a corporate Tyler Durden. But automation threatens him in the form of software pushed by ambitious upstart Natalie (Anna Kendrick).

Ryan’s ditch-digging is disingenuous, but dignified, and he reconsiders a lone-wolf lifestyle after meeting sultry businesswoman Alex (Vera Farmiga).

Reitman specializes in sympathetic silver linings for cloudy characters and never tries to redeem Ryan, just lets him relent. Clooney crackles with acerbically funny, crushingly real contradictions as Ryan questions his convictions — selling, but not believing, the exhilarating possibility of waking up with nothing.

He’s complemented by Kendrick’s un-showy turn as a woman moving beyond youthful supposition that settling is failing. And Farmiga exudes soft-velvet sensuality to which Ryan delightfully surrenders and through whom he openly confronts his belief system.

“Air” concerns occupational pathology, not wacky situations — when lifelong careers shackle true dreams. Everyone stumbles onto the wrong path at some point, but jobs are jobs — one means to one end of life. “Air” is fascinatingly light and dark, bleak and bright — just like the always-changing moods of a tumultuous workplace.

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