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UP IN THE AIR“Up in the Air,” the third film from director Jason Reitman, takes the best elements from his first two films, “Juno” and “Thank You for Smoking” and molds them into one seamless package.

George Clooney is Ryan Bingham, a high flying “termination engineer” who fires people for a living. Hired by independent companies, he flies from city to city doing the dirty work when it comes to mass lay offs. He’s perfectly suited to the job and with the recent global economic downturn, cousin, business is a boomin’. He’s a road warrior who loves the perks of the job, the air miles—his goal is to hit the 10,000,000 mile mark—the status cards and life in airports. On the road 322 days a year (“That leaves 43 miserable days at home,” he says.) he says all the stuff that people hate about traveling—the recycled air, the artificial light and warm sushi—are the things that remind him that he is home. Other than his job he’s commitment free, other than the odd woman he meets in an airport or hotel bar, like Alex (Vera Farmiga), a fellow road warrior who gets “turned on by Elite status.” His carefully constructed life may come crashing down, however, when his boos (Jason Bateman) hires Nathalie (Anna Kendrick), a know-it-all IT expert who has an idea that may ground him permanently.

It’s possible that George Clooney is the only actor working today who could make Ryan Bingham likeable. He uses every ounce of his considerable charm to make this man who treats commitment like a disease and fires people for a living bearable, much less likeable but he does. If he didn’t the movie wouldn’t work on the level it does, it would simply be a smug (and timely) social satire on how some people have found ways to benefit from the recent economic downturn. Instead it’s a heartfelt portrait of a man who tries his best to isolate himself from the pain and hurt of real life (and his job). Clooney, in what may be his strongest outing yet, combines bravado and vulnerability in one very appealing package.

Jason Reitman has found a balance in style between the heartfelt clarity of “Juno” and the biting satire of “Thank You for Smoking. He’s pitch perfect with the tone, mixing cynical with witty, creating one of the nerviest movies of the year. Opening a comedy about firing people when job market is on red alert takes some stones, but Reitman wisely attacks the subject head on, using vignettes of recently terminated people as a sad comment on the times we live in. Those scenes add some profound emotional heft to the story while Clooney and leading lady Vera Farmiga do the rest with a wonderfully acted relationship between two sharks that leads Bingham to an existential epiphany.

Clooney and Farmiga aren’t the only high fliers in the cast; Anna Kendrick, a young actress best known for her role in Twilight shines as the overly meticulous IT expert who has a thing or two to learn about people.

It’s hard to believe that “Up in the Air” is only Reitman’s third film. It’s the feel bad feel good movie of the year, so self assured, so strong in style and performance that it should get much notice at awards time.

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