Up in the Air 2009 ★★★★

I really eat up focused character dramas and this is an excellent one that stands strong through multiple viewings. Ryan Bingham is flat out a great character and George Clooney gives a superb, understated performance. He gets a lot of flak for "playing himself", but I feel like that couldn't be less true. He takes all of his characters and makes them his own, yes, but I don't think he's repeated himself, which shows his power as an actor. Here he takes this guy who, on paper, is a smug prick and makes him someone that you can relate to and genuinely feel for. That in itself is a remarkable achievement. The character himself is a unique one, a guy who has built his entire life around not having any attachments and then has to watch everything he believes in fall apart.

A lot of films find it necessary to have huge moments of evolution for characters, but I admire the ability here to have him gradually change without even realizing it. I love movies that have you look back at the end and realize that the character you started off with has drastically evolved and you don't even realize it. I always find it hard to believe when someone makes this huge transition, but here there's this much more natural flow that stays entirely true to the character while still giving him a lot of growth. I feel like so many movies, especially ones that are pretty strict character dramas without a lot of action like this, always end up having to do things with their characters that ring so false just to make things interesting. But this one is so intelligently written and stays so true to it's characters all the way, it's really admirable.

Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga both more than deserved their Oscar nominations as the women who come along and change Ryan's perspective on things. Farmiga is fun, interesting and gets you to understand why Ryan wants her to be the one girl he has stick around for a change. It's a hard role to play; she has to leave an impression without making the story be all about this character's relationship with Ryan, but she balances out all aspects of her character quite well. Kendrick is the complete opposite, this precocious young girl who dominates the screen whenever she's on it. She's strong and independent and almost steals the show. I love her character; this girl who was raised in a world where you're taught to shut yourself off from everyone else and is then thrust into being an adult and has to come out the other side with herself in tact. The scene with her first solo firing is devastating and she plays it so subtly; it's very admirable.

The film got a lot of praise for being "of the moment" and while this rings true, I think it's a lot more than that. It did a tremendous job of putting a human face on the economic crisis our country is facing, without having the film be all about this message. It creates a genuine character drama and then builds this commentary on our current time around it. The film is very of the moment, but it can also stand on it's own ten or twenty years from now as a strong character drama.

There are definitely some things that I don't care for in the film, though. I have mixed feelings on everything with the wedding in the final act; it does have some nice emotional moments and it brings necessary development for Ryan, but I feel like it doesn't really fit with the tone of the rest of the film and it's a little too conveniently timed. Aside from that, I think the whole thing is a little cookie-cutter and I wish it had gone to darker places. But these are things that have only popped up after a few viewings of the film and ultimately don't really stick in my mind for long afterwards. I think it's a great character drama with some tremendous performances and it's an important one for our time.

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