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Up in the Air (Blu-ray Review)

8 Mar, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Street 3/9/10
Box Office $82.1 million
$19.99 DVD, $29.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for language and some sexual content.
Stars George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman.

A single release can’t fill the void that has pretty well defined Hollywood for the last quarter-century, but you have to start somewhere. In an era when it’s usually modestly distributed indies or documentaries that do the heavy lifting, here, at long last, was a major studio giving us a comic-dramatic “entertainment” graced with ‘A’-list star power that actually has something to do with life as it is actually lived — a throwback to those now quaint days when the movies really were “The Movies.”

An instant milestone in the career of George Clooney dealing with the recently laid-off economic underclass, Paramount’s imaginative choice for a holiday theatrical release is topical to eerie extremes — yet also funny at times and always psychologically deft.

Perfectly cast, Clooney plays the kind of smooth hired gun who probably couldn’t live in the deep Midwest were he not always flying off to other destinations and earning the Frequent Flier miles he covets. The benefits, however, come with a price tag that doesn’t seem to penetrate his armor: laying off longtime workers (with whom he employs faux compassionate chumminess) at businesses where the bosses are loathe to do the dirty work themselves.

In a pressure-packed hour and 50 minutes, there are at least four movies going on here. There’s the tragic business-at-hand movie. There’s the movie about Clooney knowingly (even breezily) running away from life, which extends to the skittishness he feels about interacting with his siblings. Then there’s the movie about the two women he meets who appeal to the different sides of his complex personality: one carnally (Vera Farmiga, with whom he accrues Frequent Philanderer miles on the road); and one somewhat paternally (Anna Kendrick), despite their mutual testiness.

The latter, a rigid recent college grad who might drive anyone up the wall at the right moment, is the job-jettisoning firm’s green yet perceptive recent hire who sees right through him. But to keep the story’s dueling dynamics from becoming too pat, the smart Jason Reitman/Sheldon Turner script (an extreme revamp of Walter Kirn’s source novel) makes certain that Kendrick’s control mechanism develops major kinks when it comes to her own personal life.

The other movie here — and I haven’t heard a whole lot of people talk about this one — is the one about the person who works single-mindedly toward a goal, which turns out at the end of the story to be less than advertised. The final shot here reminds me some of the capper to Robert Altman’s marvelous California Split (one of the director’s best movies and maybe his most underrated). Except that Clooney’s situation is more poignant.

I didn’t care much for director Reitman’s Thank You for Smoking (like The Devil Wears Prada, it was way too soft for such foolproof satirical material) — or even the masses-pleasing Juno (cheaply snarky about a serious subject and with a terminal case of the cutes). But from Air’s opening scene, a tricky tone is modulated and balls juggled with precision and perfection. In a movie that ranges from hilarity to melancholia to outright despair, there’s also some sex plus three Oscar-nominated performances to stuff the coffers.

Even the deleted (or, in some cases, expanded) scenes in the DVD/Blu-ray bonus package deliver more entertainment than most major studio releases from last year.

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