It is hard to imagine a company name filled with more absurdity than “Career Transition Corporation.” Of course, that translates to “You’re Fired and Probably Won’t Recover,” but in the world of corporate politics, anything to soften the blow will help.
CTC has a star employee, Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), who is approaching 10 million miles flown as he darts around the country firing people. He is hired by managers who cannot do their own job, hilarious to think that a company who can no longer afford the employee will hire someone else to fire them.
Up in the Air is certainly relevant, and could not have hit at a better time. Scenes of Bingham and his perky new young assistant Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) firing people in Detroit, mentions of the rough economy, and actual unemployed people sitting in front of the camera to react to the news is going to be difficult for some to take.
While Up in the Air seems light despite the subject matter, Bingham is flawed. He hates home life, avoiding it by taking the job at CTC. He claims he does not need or want a relationship, until he meets Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga). Their fling becomes serious, actually grounding Bingham, making him see that his life is not that simple. He begins to take notice of his family, interjecting in a crisis situation at a wedding.
Without an engaging central character, someone most people would hate, Up in the Air would not work as well as it does. It has its moments of joy and laughter, including one of the funniest temper tantrums you’ll ever see from Kendrick after a break-up. It has the ability to cause heartbreak as employees who are being let go show pictures of their children in close-up to the camera.
It even has the ability to shock you with a twist ending that moves far from the Hollywood norms, depressing sure, but also refreshing that Up in the Air does not cave. It certainly pulls the viewer in the direction of the cliche before pulling everything out from under them.
Writer Sheldon Turner (co-writing credit going to director Jason Reitman) has come a long way from Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Dialogue here is a far cry from that of the average slasher, intelligent, witty, and engaging. Everything comes together, and the pace is handled to develop these characters and their interactions naturally. Maybe that is why Up in the Air works so well, delivering a believable, realistic tone that never once feels glossy, melodramatic, or forced. That is hard to do, but Jason Reitman pulls it off.
Paramount’s AVC encode for Up in the Air is just about perfect. While generally coldly colored, vibrancy and saturation for those steely hues is high. Primaries are still bold enough to make an impact, aided by rich, deep blacks that never fade or disappoint.
Facial texture is typically remarkable. While nearly any scene will suffice, the “best of” award goes to the firing scene with J.K. Simmons (around the 35-minute mark). Clooney, Kendrick, and Simmons all exhibit amazing depth and texture on their faces here, fully resolved and defined. Clothing generally delivers the same level of high fidelity detail, individual stitches regularly visible. Mid-range shots maintain the same level of exquisite texture.
Environments can steal the show as well. The thick snow in Detroit, the design of the airports, and the flowers at a wedding are truly gorgeous to see. The level of grain at work here is wholly unobtrusive, and many will only find it an issue during the opening credits. The shots are done from above inside planes, delivering some stunning shots of clouds and the ground, causing some minimal banding that is easily missed.
When it comes time to dig into the transfer to find flaws, there are some mild inconsistencies. Light ringing can be spotted, although it is limited. Some close-ups fail to be as resolved as others. A shot of Clooney publicly speaking around 47:00 is notably soft, likely an intentional focus effect that will bother only a few hardened videophiles.
Comparatively, Up in the Air’s sound design is quite flat. Ambiance is barely noted, even during presentations in crowded halls. A party late in the film is also stuck in the front soundstage, unable to escape. Granted, the music blaring in the back, some classic Naughty by Nature, really hammers the low end. The generally light soundtrack elsewhere offers little in terms of surround bleed.
Dialogue is fine, always mixed prominently regardless of the conditions. Still, there is an overwhelming sense of disappointment that crowded airports fail at offering ambiance, and fall flat in their ability to immerse the viewer in Bingham’s world. What is important though is that the mix remains serviceable, preserving the story as intended.
A commentary from director Jason Reitman, director of photography Eric Steelberg, and first assistant director Jason Blumenfeld highlights this slim set of extras. Shadowplay is a brief featurette (2:27) on the design of the opening credits for this movie, and Reitman’s previous films as well.
Live storyboards run for about a minute and a half, followed by 13 deleted scenes (with an optional commentary from Reitman) including a bizarre sequence with Clooney as an astronaut. A music video, trailers, and an unexplained American Airlines prank (all 37-seconds of it) round off the bonus features.