Hired to do the sacking

2010-02-01 00:00

“YOU are being let go.” These are the four simple words which have the power to reduce even the most confident person to a gibbering wreck.

Now imagine being employed to say those words every single day.

That’s precisely what Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) does in Jason Reitman’s Golden Globe-winning film, Up In The Air.

Bingham works for Careers Transitions Company (CTC), a firm which is hired by other companies to fire their staff.

He ne­ver knows the people whose world he turns upside down, and the scenes in which he does so are quite difficult to watch.

Bingham, who wings his way across America — moving from airport to hotel, stopping only to fire a few people along the way — is not a likeable man and seems immune to the emotional devastation he causes.

In fact, he loves his transient lifestyle so much that he lectures others on the desirability of having no ties — personal or otherwise. It’s a philosophy he practices religiously. His home base is a flat which has only the basics — a bed, a metal clothes rack, a kettle, a toaster. There are none of the usual knick-knacks which, for most of us, turn a house into a home.

As for personal relationships, Bingham believes in keeping family, friends and colleagues firmly at arms length. Emotional commitment is a burden he believes he neither wants nor needs.

His only real desire is to achieve 10 million air miles and to become a member of a very select group of American Airlines frequent flyers.

Into this shallow man’s existence walks two women — Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a gung-ho if naive, 20-something efficiency expert, who believes you can just as easily fire someone over an Internet connection as you can in person; and Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), the woman who seems to be his business travel soul mate.

Bingham is forced to take Natalie under his wing even though her technological innovations threaten his lifestyle. In doing so, he finds himself in the unusual role of father figure. That, coupled with an unexpected emotional connection with Alex, pushes him to contemplate starting his first ever adult relationship.

Underpinning the entire film is the reality that thousands of Americans have lost their jobs in the worldwide recession. Arriving in Detroit, home of the American motor industry, Bingham warns Natalie that they need to be more than usually professional, as the area has been hard hi­t by retrenchments.

In a particularly poignant scene, the pair walk into an office and, as the receptionist calls the manager to announce their arrival, the camera pans around the room and reveals an office with very few staff, no desks and phones on the floor.

Up In The Air is a very un-Hollywood film. It’s understated and depends strongly on the performances of its three main actors, and, having seen it, I’m not sur­prised that Clooney, Farmiga and Kendrick have been nominated for a truckload of awards.

This is a gem of a film and one which will leave you pondering long after the credits role. Don’t miss it.

****

If you sit patiently through the credits, you will hear Kevin Renick introduce his song, ‘Up in the Air’, which he wrote two years before the film was made, after he had been fired from his marketing firm. He made a tape and gave it to Jason Reitman at a Q&A event. Reitman was blown away by the authenticity and melancholy of it.

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