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Review: Reitman scores third hit with 'Up in the Air'

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"Up In The Air"

Directed by: Jason Reitman

Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman

Rated: R

At the ripe young age of 32, writer/director Jason Reitman has three films under his belt and not a misfire in the bunch.

The son of producer/director Ivan Reitman made his debut in 2006 with "Thank You for Smoking," a satire about a trio of lobbyists who called themselves "The MOD Squad," for "Merchants of Death." One was an alcohol industry lobbyist, the other lobbied for the firearms folks and Aaron Eckart starred as a lobbyist for big tobacco.

Reitman sidestepped the oft-encountered "sophomore slump" by topping his debut with his second film, "Juno." Ellen Page plays a teen who finds herself pregnant and decides to have the baby and put it up for adoption. Reitman managed to sidestep stereotypes and clichés - Juno's parents were kind, funny and understanding - and delivered a movie that I will never get tired of seeing. It made every major critic's "best of the year" list and proved Ellen Page is going to have a long and successful career.

"Up in the Air," co-written and directed by Reitman, completes the hat-trick of great movies. Based on the novel by Walter Kirn, the film has many elements that put the director's personal stamp on the story. It is funny, poignant and melancholy, many times in the same scene. And the character development is rich.

George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a man on the verge of hitting the 10 million-mile mark on his frequent flyer account. Why so many miles? Bingham travels for his job. He traveled 322 days last year, leaving him 43 "miserable" (his word) days at home in Omaha, Neb., where his company is based.

Bingham is content - ecstatic, even - to live his life on the road, up in the air.

His job? He's the opposite of a "corporate headhunter." He's a hatchet man for hire. The firm he works for has a team of folks who are brought in when other companies are downsizing. Bingham is billed as a transitions counselor, but in essence, he fires people.

He's not mean about it and actually does try to help ease the shock, but still ...

The affable, twinkle-eyed Clooney owns this role, reminding viewers of a modern Cary Grant.

Bingham's idyllic (for him) life is about to change. With so many people like him at the company, the powers that be realize they could save a bundle in travel expenses if they had a more efficient methodology - they could stop spending money on airline tickets, hotels, et cetera.

Enter 23-year-old Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick). She is fresh out of college and wants to make a name for herself. She's devised a plan wherein the company could do all of its business via Webcams, using laptops. Everyone would stay at headquarters in their own little cubicles. No more plane tickets and travel expenses.

But to give her a sense of what goes on at a transition counseling session, the boss (Jason Bateman) sends her on the road with Bingham. He's not thrilled because he hates her Webcam idea and dreads its impending implementation. He's also afraid the kid will cramp his style with a fellow frequent flyer with whom he's been having sex whenever they're in the same city.

In the third act, an air of melancholy slowly creeps in as Ryan finds out something about his mistress of the airways and also begins reflecting on his own life while attending the wedding of his sister.

There's Oscar buzz about the film in general and Clooney in particular. It's a great movie, and in a time when downsizing is a reality for many, Reitman manages to keep from making the it seem mean-spirited or depressing.

It's not all fun and games, but it is filled with many charms, a great ensemble cast, an engaging story and - with Reitman at the helm - top-notch direction.[[In-content Ad]]Jim Wunderle owns Wunderle Sound Services and is a Springfield freelance writer and musician. He can be reached at info@wunderlesound.com.

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