Movie Review 13: Up in the Air

I fly roughly 90,000 domestic butt-in-seat-miles every year. I spend about 120 nights in hotels. My Alaska Airlines MVP Gold Card, Hilton Honors Diamond Card, and Hertz Gold President's Club Gold cards mean I get to go to the front of the line in travel facilities around the country. I even decorate my apartment with Industrial Post Shelving. I have dual citizenship with the USA and the ephemeral place known as "Air World." In that respect, I have a few things in common with Ryan Bingam, George Clooney's character in Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air."

The movie is based on Walter Kirn's novel of the same name. I first heard about the book when Terry Gross interviewed Kirn on NPR's Fresh Air. As I recall, I found the first part of the book to be great, but was a little disappointed in the second half.

The movie diverges significantly from the book, and the main plots really have nothing to do with one another, and that's a good thing. The book and the movie do share the culture of the frequent flyer and their commentary on corporate downsizing.

As the GF and I sat in the theater, I found myself chuckling with recognition of travel moments. There appeared to be a few other frequent flyers in the theater chuckling at the same moments. And I did recognize many of the airports he goes through (including a couple times when they pretended STL was OMA). But there's more to this movie than just travel moments to relate to.

The story follows Ryan Bingham, who travels the country firing people for other companies. His own position is threatened by a new employee who wants to replace Bingham and his colleagues with video conferencing. The possibility of being taken off the road and subjected to going into the same office day after day terrifies Bingham.

In the meantime we see Bingham relate to people he meets on the road, his co-workers, and his family. Some are mystified at his lifestyle; others relate perfectly.

The movie is a nice portrait of those people. While the plot moves forward at a good pace, not too much happens in it. If you are looking for huge world changing stories, go see "Avatar." If you want one that is more about people and how they deal with opportunities for personal growth this is a great choice.

The cinematography is also quite good. The sweeping vistas of the skies, shots of the irrigation circles in the midwest, airport schedule boards, and the shuffling of luggage are all well done. Even though it's not a big special effects movie there is still good reason to see it on the big screen.

Themes of loneliness and alienation run through the movie. In that respect, it reminds me of "Lost in Translation."

I have read some criticism that the product placement is overdone, but I don't agree. Sure it's there, and I have no doubt Travel Pro, Hilton, American Airlines, and Hertz paid dearly to be featured so strongly in the film, but the fact is corporate branding is a part of travel, and brand loyalty is the whole key to success in loyalty programs. These brands are part of travel life and simply make more sense than throwing out an Oceanic Airlines or some other fake brand.

There has been Oscar talk for "Up in the Air," along with "Avatar," and after seeing these two movies, "Up in the Air" deserves a Best Picture Oscar more than "Avatar." They're both very good movies. "Avatar" is a beautiful movie, and definitely deserves a slew of Oscars, but the story and character development aren't as strong. If it wasn't such a gorgeous film, didn't blaze new trails in computer graphics, and didn't push 3D films to a new level, it would just be a good film.

"Up in the Air" has a much stronger script. The writing is better and the characters are more interesting. No planet or civilization is at stake, but the story still has plenty to keep the viewer interested. It doesn't have the cliches of "Avatar." And while it does offer commentary on corporate life and greed is doesn't beat the viewer over the head with its commentary.

Weeks after it's release, "Up in the Air" is still filling theater seats, and for good reason. If you like movies about characters, or just spend a lot of time traveling, check it out.

You can see more of my movie reviews here.

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