Top Ten Movies of 2009 — Number Two

upintheair

Jason Reitman’s third feature as a writer-director is perfectly positioned to tap into the dismal zeitgeist of economic hardship and jobs that are vanishing as fast as double scotches in a hotel bar. George Clooney doesn’t just play a businessman who spends most of his life jetting from city to city, entirely untethered from a settled life. He’s a hired hit man, taking up temporary residence in the conference rooms of failing firms to tell a morose parade of professionals that they are are loosing their livelihoods. It’s a bleakly comic reflection of the most downbeat pages of today’s newspaper. But as much as Reitman’s film is of the moment, it is also built with a clear love for the sort of classic Hollywood narrative built around vibrant characters and piercing emotions that goes exponentially further out of style with every advance in computer animated imagery. Clooney’s character is forced to face his evasion of his own self through the insidious safety of constant pampered transience when he comes into the circle of two very different women, one his female equivalent, and the other his completely opposite. The screenplay, adapted from a novel by Walter Kirn by Reitman and Sheldon Turner, artfully uses these relationships–one romantic, one of shifting mentorship–to further illuminate the man at the film’s core, to show the way that he’s lost, aimless, uncertain. It shows that his whole life is indeed up in the air. In this tricky role, Clooney delivers the finest performance of his career thus far, playing on his own real life reputation with a deftness familiar from some of Warren Beatty’s savviest work. He taps into the character’s low idle yearning with ever lapsing into needy pathos. He is charming and endearing, but also signals the way the character is quietly conflicted. Throughout, Reitman brings Clooney’s expert performance, as well as the equally fine Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick, to the forefront, while also maintaining a splendid poise in the construction of the story and the images.

(Posted simultaneously to “Jelly-Town!”)

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