Like The Graduate and Jerry Maguire, Up in the Air, the new film from director Jason Reitman (Juno) is that increasing rarity in Hollywood today: a true zeitgeist movie that speaks directly to how we live now, how we got here and where we're heading. Without sugarcoating or pandering, Air is also that increasing cinematic rarity: a major studio film that's unapologetically and unmistakably grown-up.
Intelligently adapted by Reitman and Sheldon Turner from Walter Kirn's 2001 novel, Air stars George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a freelance "corporate downsizer" (a.k.a. hatchet man) who flies around the globe firing pink-slipped employees for their chickenshit employers. Proud of his footloose and fancy-free ways (he spends 322 days of the year on the road) and lack of emotional attachments, Ryan is flying right into the path of an oncoming storm — a crisis of conscience. He just doesn't know it yet. The remarkable supporting cast includes Vera Farmiga as an equally career-obsessed Chicago business executive who's instrumental in derailing Ryan's flight plans (literally and figuratively) and the wonderful Anna Kendrick (Camp, Rocket Science) as Ryan's eager-beaver second-in-command who learns a life lesson or two of her own along the way.
As splendidly written — you can almost get a contact high from Reitman and Turner's witty, Billy Wilder-worthy dialogue — and brilliantly directed as Up in the Air is, the movie probably wouldn't have worked nearly as well with a different leading actor. Clooney, however, delivers a career performance here, one that definitively pegs him as the premier American screen actor of his generation. In a year in which some of the best movies have been animated (Up and Fantastic Mr. Fox), Reitman's humanist triumph proves that Hollywood — or at least Hollywood filmmaking — isn't completely dead.