My knapsack is empty

Up in the Air

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) executes the details of his travel routine with the dispatch that befits a man who flew 350,000 miles during the past year. He speedwalks to the heads of lines, spends time in elite airline clubs, steps deftly in and out of his shoes, and settles repeatedly into the first class seats that are his home for most of the year. Ryan works for a company that hires itself out to corporations that are downsizing. He is an expert in the art of firing people. We take people at their most fragile and we set them adrift, he says. Its what we do. Yes, thats exactly what he does, and hes the perfect man for the job.

            Ryan loves his life of blank hotel rooms and same style planes. My knapsack is empty. He has no person, no place that means anything to him. He has a distant sister and nearly ten million airline miles. While we watch, he will become the seventh man to break that mark, and it means a great deal to him. He rejects the complications suggested by the possibility of marriage, house, and kids and celebrates the perks that accrue to a champion mileage collector.

            In a hotel bar he meets his match in Alex (Vera Farmiga). Immediately, we slot Alex as the force that will turn Ryan around by introducing him to the benefits of having a co-pilot in life. But in this complex, sometimes profound movie, things are not that simple. Alex is more than his match; she is a fellow sky warrior Im the woman you dont have to worry about. So settle in to watch an updated version of those wonderful movies from the 1930s Hepburn and Tracy, Russell and Grant. Or is that really what this is about?

            For Ryan, every flight ends in a confrontation with employees who have been outsourced for termination by CEOs too gutless to do the dirty deed themselves. His perfect life is upended with the arrival of Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a newbie with a big idea: lets fire them remotely, by computer. The terminated employees losing their livelihoods turn out to real people who have been downsized in real life. Ryan stands out in garish primary colors.

            American Airlines and Hilton Hotels will be grateful to director Jason Reitman for showing a good side of air travel in an era when flying has become the dog of contemporary travel. The rapid fire comedy that unfolds between Clooney and Farmiga is new fangled and satisfying; the cool persona he has fashioned for himself as a successful head lopper ultimately raises big questions about flying solo and being the instrument of destruction and despair for hundreds of human beings. Mixing comedy and pathos in one movie is a risky business; this time around, it poses the question: if an empty backpack means an empty soul, what exactly does that person deserve?


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