Up In The Air, starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga,Anna Kendrick, Paramount Pictures, 2009
The last time that I reviewed a film starring George Clooney in this space he portrayed a much put-upon, but ultimately triumphant, fixer-man lawyer in the film Michael Clayton. I mentioned there that you may “buy” the fixer-man off, you may knock him around the courts a little with some silly law suit but in no way do you try to kill the bugger when he is doing what he does best, fixing things. Apparently, according the story line here where Clooney plays the hatchet-man for a company that “fires” high level people for those who do not want to get their hands messy, or place themselves in the line of fire if things go awry, that same poor judgment prevails here.
Oh no, no one is trying to kill Brother Clooney here, well, except maybe kill his spirit through the huge advances in communications technology that allow a company to avoid the expenses associated with flying all over the place in economic bad times to do the ”canning” and thus taking away an old school-style job from Clooney that he has become skilled at. Seems that somebody at headquarters got the bright idea to do the whole process by remote control, through computers. And the avatar of that idea was none other than a freshly- minted MBA (played by Anna Kendrick) out to win her spurs in the tough world of high-tech software innovations. Along the way though, as she tags along with Clooney on his aero-rounds, she gets “religion” and steps away to find a more socially useful way to flaunt her skills.
But back to George. See, he can see the writing on the wall a little but he is determined to run a rearguard action to defend his reason for existence, his style. Here he is clearly the first, well maybe not first but close, post-modern plastic card man who like Saul Bellows’ Dangling Man, or any one of a number of John Updike’s modern men, lives a purely existential life, and likes it. With the exception of a baffling relationship with a fellow female business-class traveler (played by fetching Vera Farmiga) who, shockingly (to Clooney) and incongruously (to me), turns out to be just another soccer mom on a lark his life, his solo life, is lived in hotels, airplanes, and rental cars. By the way (BTW for the cyber-slang crazed) George Clooney’s cool, clinical demeanor, and his quietly-determined quest for ever more frequent-flyer miles is perfect in this role. But one more time-don’t mess with the fixer-man, or the hatchet-man, not if his name is Clooney. Got it.