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WILDER AT HEART 

Up in the Air evokes classic Hollywood filmmaking

Like The Graduate and Jerry Maguire, Up in the Air, the new film from director Jason Reitman (Juno) is that increasing rarity in Hollywood today: a true zeitgeist movie that speaks directly to how we live now, how we got here and where we're heading. Without sugarcoating or pandering, Air is also that increasing cinematic rarity: a major studio film that's unapologetically and unmistakably grown-up.

Intelligently adapted by Reitman and Sheldon Turner from Walter Kirn's 2001 novel, Air stars George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a freelance "corporate downsizer" (a.k.a. hatchet man) who flies around the globe firing pink-slipped employees for their chickenshit employers. Proud of his footloose and fancy-free ways (he spends 322 days of the year on the road) and lack of emotional attachments, Ryan is flying right into the path of an oncoming storm — a crisis of conscience. He just doesn't know it yet. The remarkable supporting cast includes Vera Farmiga as an equally career-obsessed Chicago business executive who's instrumental in derailing Ryan's flight plans (literally and figuratively) and the wonderful Anna Kendrick (Camp, Rocket Science) as Ryan's eager-beaver second-in-command who learns a life lesson or two of her own along the way.

As splendidly written — you can almost get a contact high from Reitman and Turner's witty, Billy Wilder-worthy dialogue — and brilliantly directed as Up in the Air is, the movie probably wouldn't have worked nearly as well with a different leading actor. Clooney, however, delivers a career performance here, one that definitively pegs him as the premier American screen actor of his generation. In a year in which some of the best movies have been animated (Up and Fantastic Mr. Fox), Reitman's humanist triumph proves that Hollywood — or at least Hollywood filmmaking — isn't completely dead.

film@clevescene.com

More by Milan Paurich

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