It’s quite hard to dislike George Clooney. Especially his cool liberalism (unless, I guess, you’re on the political right) and that natural suave charm. Somehow he even manages to escape the potential charge of hypocrisy in the light of his outward concern for humanitarian issues as he takes a pay-cheque promoting coffee machines from a company whose track record in that area is less than spotless. Artistically he makes it all look so easy – whether it’s adverts, crowd-pleasing Oceans 11, 12, 13… or something more meditative or thoughtful.
Up In The Air appears then, at the outset,seems to be something of an open goal. And so it is, especially as behind the camera we have Jason Reitman, the director of superb, witty, subtle charming Juno. Clooney plays a man who flies around the states, making a living from sacking people on behalf of other companies who buy the services of his company. He’s prides himself on bringing the human touch; and he loves the forced politeness of the airline, hotel and car rental companies whom he chooses to use as homes on the road. He’s the ultimate man with no connections and no commitments. It’s no great surprise then, that film turns on challenges to his world – from his sister’s wedding, a woman he has a fling with on the road and a new employee seeking to bring a new way of working from the office, sacking by video-conference.
Clooney delivers the sort of performance you expect Clooney to deliver, and it’s no less enjoyable for that. The dark comedy just works in tone; the script has a similar (though adult, not adolescent) sharpness to Juno, and the rest of the cast are fine without being outstanding.
It’s good, though a long way from great. Why? Because, I think, it seems to get stuck at a half-way point between seeking to say something about work, culture and relationships at one extreme or a simple, darker-shade of comedy. It’s ends up being convincing at neither end of the spectrum, and what could have been a cleverly ambiguous ending becomes a cop-out. The film stares into an abyss, and gets so hypnotised by what it sees there that it’s frozen, head-hanging over the edge, unable to jump or back away.