Up in the Air
d. Jason Reitman / USA / 2009 / 109 mins
Viewed at: Cinema 2 @ Barbican (London, UK)
Much like he did with his feature debut Thank You For Smoking (2005), Jason ‘Son of Ivan’ Reitman uses Up in the Air to present a variation on the theme of male characters who are largely detestable, but whom act as an advocate of some sort. Whilst Aaron Eckhart’s Nick Naylor remains fairly contemptible throughout Thank You For Smoking, George Clooney’s portrayal of Ryan Bingham in Up in the Air is carried off with such a customary charm and warmth, that he eventually becomes a sympathetic figure, a tortured soul who might never find true happiness.
But let’s be clear, whilst this is not the ‘Great American Film’ that many were proposing, the central notions of status obsession, existential misanthropy and greed, do speak to something which seems peculiar to the American psyche. And whilst it is a fairly common criticism, no matter which way you look at it Up in the Air really was a bit of a giant ad for American Airlines and Hilton Hotels, and what could be more American than that, right?
But does any that even really matter? After all, this is merely an eminently entertaining, unobtrusive film in which the central position of the airline and the hotel chain within the narrative works precisely because it is all contextualised. And given that you can never really trust the Hollywood publicity machine, it would be interesting to know whether the original Walter Kirn novel on which it is based was optioned with lucrative product placement in mind, or if they were simply secondary considerations, called upon to service the narrative and plug a financial ‘gap’.