Sunday, January 10, 2010

"Baggage Claim": A Spoiler-Free (TM) Review of "Up in the Air" (2009, dir. by Jason Reitman)

A year ago (almost to a day) I was laid off from my primary job, beginning a crazy, hard, and at times, heartbreaking series of months.  Losing a job cuts to the core of a person, in part, because so often, we believe the lie that we are what we do.  Thus, losing a job means losing a large part of our identity.  Ryan Bingham's identity is being constantly in motion; essentially living on an American Airlines jet/in a Hilton Hotel, traversing the distance between the two in a Hertz rental.  He does the dirty work of HR, firing people on behalf of cowardly bosses.  Jason Reitman, Academy Award nominated director of Juno, directs George Clooney in a beautiful, artisan crafted motion picture that achieves that to which every Oscar nominated film aspires and presumptuously assumes - a quiet profundity.

Ryan Bingham adores the road and hates home.  He is the proficient model of efficient travel.  While sipping a drink at yet another Hilton bar, he meets Alex Goran, the model of feminist self-actualized libertine sexuality.  "Think of me as yourself with a vagina," she deadpans after some gratuitous (is there any other kind?) rear nudity.  The friendly skies now all the friendlier, Bingham has nothing to fear but SDF itself.  (Yep! He disses Louisville's airport!)  Enter Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick, apparently also in Twilight), the new girl in the office - 23 years old & fresh from Cornell - whose plans to revolutionize the industry mean the end of the world as Ryan knows it.

It's telling that this film, ostensibly about a lone wolf/lone ranger/lone star/lone eagle hatchet man, is amplified by a strong cast of backing actors, all of whom are especially terrific in character roles.  Jason Bateman (hero of Arrested Development, goat of Juno) is the opportunistic director of Bingham's company, J.K. Simmons (too many good parts to list, let's start with J. Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man) and Zach Galifianakis (my favorite subversive comic) are corporate drones removed from the hive, and Sam Elliott (Tombstone) dons his best Sully Sullenberg mustache.  I was especially glad to see Danny McBride (Rico, from Hot Rod, my favorite comedy of the 00s) as Ryan's future brother-in-law.

I said above that Reitman has made an artisan film.  From the vintage-feeling opening credits to the careful camera work, it's clear that this film is telling an important message that deserves to be heard.  As the story explores the baggage of relationships, loneliness, lust, wealth, and power, it offers some thought provoking reflections on the subjects at hand.  Ryan packs his life into his carry-on roller suitcase, a Gold-member of everything except his own life.  I would strongly encourage people to see this film, especially to watch it and discuss it in community.  It's the best film I've seen from last year, (better than The Hurt Locker and Up!, great films both), easily.  The only question is one, will you make the connection, and two, what will you pick up from the baggage claim?

91 out of 100.


At 12:30 AM , Blogger sbwelder said...

Thanks for the recommendation, dude! I can't believe how well this movie tied into the Proverbs sermons over the past few weeks... it definitely left me with much to reflect on!

At 10:33 AM , Blogger Jason said...

You, sir, are an unbelievably good writer. You would be an unrighteous steward not to continue to write movie reviews, what with your passion and skill here so obviously coalescing.

At 10:34 AM , Blogger Paul said...

Thanks Sarah & Jason!

Sarah: Yeah, I can imagine that it's a great pairing with what Proverbs says about friendship and sex. I've heard some people say that they thought "Up in the Air" was depressing. It's only so if you accept Ryan's worldview at face value. Glad to hear you reflecting on it!

Jason: Thanks brother. I definitely want to keep writing here. I've wondered, though, what a next step might look like. Thoughts?


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