Film review: A modern “Heart of Darkness”

Well, somebody has to do it. Some guy donning a $1,000 dollar suit walks in from nowhere with unple
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Well, somebody has to do it.

Some guy donning a $1,000 dollar suit walks in from nowhere with unpleasant news. He informs the office manager, making close to or more than six figures, that it’s all over for him and the staff.

It’s cold, clinical and, if you want to make a literary connection to the corporate verdict, look no further than Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” whose narrator describes the process as a “devotion to efficiency.”

“This is what we do, we take people at their most fragile and set them adrift,” says George Clooney’s Ryan Bingham, cool-as-cucumber narrator and leading character in “Up in the Air.”

‘Up in the Air’

Directed by: Jason Reitman

Screenplay: Reitman and Sheldon Turner, based on the novel by Walter Kirn. Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Sam Elliott, J.K. Simmons

Rated: R

Running time: 109 minutes

It’s an efficient, routine business for these self-described “road warriors,” an ironic allusion to corporate heroism if there ever was one. Fire legions of employees and before the shocked souls have a chance to present a case, the messengers are on the next plane to Wichita, bearers of more unpleasant news for another firm.

Walter Kirn’s screenplay does not address the merits of dismissal. It’s a matter of expediency practiced by professional hit men and women trained to sweeten the taste of industrial cyanide with researched doses of medicinal precision.

Focus on process

If the movie allows us to feel for the victims, it is careful not establish defenses. Our eyes are on the process and the people hired to fire. How does it feel to end a guy’s life as he knows it? In fairness, there must be situations in which dismissals are justified.

Still, does Ryan’s conscience bother him? Should it? After all, the process is not patently dishonest.

On the other hand, to what extent does the engagement threaten a man’s soul? His harmony with family, his love life, his regard and need for companionship?

To its credit, “Up in The Air” weighs and considers these questions when Ryan returns home for a family wedding, where, ironically, he uses his corporate skills to effect a settlement.

Then there is his attachment with a traveler he meets along the way, handsomely played by Vera Farmiga. And then there is newcomer and Cornell-trained researcher portrayed by Anna Kendrick. Both are superb in fleshing out their characters.

Meanwhile, here’s Ryan Bingham, 322 days a year on the road, a polished, impeccable presence, living out of a suitcase.

Clooney’s portrayal if this terminal man is exemplary on every count. He is a man of and for our times. So too is this year’s finest movie.

Reach Gazette film critic Dan DiNicola at [email protected]

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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