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Copernicus Calls UP IN THE AIR ...'the film to beat for Best Picture this year'!!

UP IN THE AIR is the film to beat for Best Picture this year. But to call it Best Picture is to diminish it. Best Pictures come at the whim of a fickle Academy that makes choices that don’t always stand the test of time. UP IN THE AIR is a rarer bird – the kind of film that announces that there is a new important director on the scene – one for the A-list. Jason Reitman has already shown promise with his previous efforts, THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, and JUNO. But promise isn’t the word for UP IN THE AIR – it is something closer to mastery. On the surface, UP IN THE AIR is the story of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a man who lives a rootless existence as a kind of corporate hitman. When companies can’t muster the fortitude to fire their workers themselves, they outsource the job to the outfit Bingham works for. He technically has a home base in Omaha, Nebraska, but he spends most days on the road in hotels or in airports hopping from one job to the next. Bingham celebrates his unfettered lifestyle – he’s always on the move and doesn’t have any serious relationships to tie him down. He even gives motivational speeches on the side extolling the virtues of simplifying your life and seeking enlightenment on the road. Complications ensue when Bingham starts hooking up with fellow traveler and kindred spirit Alex (Vera Farminga), and when his boss, the always-great Jason Bateman, forces him to take the rookie whiz-kid Natalie (Anna Kendrick), who may eliminate his own job, on the road. The easy way out here would be to set up the title character as the one who needs to change. But does that mean he should aspire to settle down and become an adventureless American suburbanite? Reitman, who co-wrote the screenplay with Sheldon Turner (significantly deviating from the novel by Walter Kirn), builds an intricate character study out of this tension. The characters face interesting dilemmas for which there are no easy answers, and nobody does exactly what you expect. While the not-quite-traditional narrative would make the film at home in the art house, there are plenty of crowd-pleasing touches. It is simultaneously funny and heartbreaking, and with a perfectly balanced performance as a confident, yet vulnerable loner facing the listlessness of middle age, Clooney shows why he’s best leading man working today. Ryan Bingham is Jack Kerouac seen through a dark mirror – the beat seeker has morphed into a corporate road warrior, and national chains have homogenized much of the distinctive cultural landscape. Massive title cards… CHICAGO…. DETROIT… ST. LOUIS (featuring beautiful, hypnotic flyover shots of each city), are required to tell each destination apart because at ground level they all look the same. This is not dwelled on as a bad thing – the lead character has a near-ritualistic approach to travel, and is proud of his brand loyalty to Hilton and his nearly ten million miles on American Airlines. In fact the two are corporate sponsors of the film. Tarted up in perky greetings, lavish rewards, and chain uniformity, everything seems just so. However, like the main character, the façade may be impeccable, but the inside is hollow. The subtext is clear – here brand loyalty, faux friendship, and artifice have replaced legitimate personal connections. And the primacy of global business efficiency over human-scale needs is a recurring theme. UP IN THE AIR captures the economic zeitgeist in the anger and anxiety of dozens of workers fired through little fault of their own. Some lash out spectacularly, some cry, some take it as it is disingenuously sold – as a new opportunity for personal growth. Reitman apparently put ads in newspapers asking people to be interviewed on camera for a supposed documentary about the economy. He had them fired on camera and asked them to react either how they had actually reacted or how they wish they had reacted. The resulting montages devastate with the ring of truth that it would be impossible to deliver had they been traditionally written and acted. In fact, it seems the track sung over the end credits was written by an out of work musician who sung it into Jason Reitman’s answering machine. These undercurrents give UP IN THE AIR an unsettling resonance. It may ultimately be looked upon as the definitive portrait of 2009 America – one that is full of hard-working, well-meaning people, but who live in a society that is financially devastated, shallow, adrift, and ultimately impoverished by faith in corporate empires. A brilliantly executed, witty character study starring George Clooney is what is going to put asses in the seats this holiday season. But the larger picture stuffed into the cracks is what will give the film real staying power. From now on Jason Reitman won't be known mainly as Ivan Reitman's son -- Ivan had better get used to being referred to as Jason Reitman's dad.

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