Monday, 24 May 2010

Up in the Air

Lowdown: A consultant specializing in sacking people has to deal with revisions to his place of work.
One of the things that make me wonder about human nature the most is the way people are able to do the most atrocious things under the guise of doing it for work. Up in the Air discusses that particular problem and many of its nuances and does so in an entertaining manner.
A much older than usual looking George Clooney plays a mercenary consultant with a twist or two: his day job is to replace chicken managers when the time comes for them to fire their employees, and his expertise are so sought after that his home is the airplane that takes him from one sad place of work to another. He's so into planes that his life's ambition is to be the seventh American Airlines frequent flyer to accumulate more than a billion gazillion miles. The lack of a home means Clooney is able to isolate himself from fellow human beings, at least as far as meaningful contact is concerned, which is definitely beneficial when one's job is to be the bearer of nasty news. How else can you perform such a task when you actually have feelings?
Up in the Air deals mostly with the cracks that appear in Clooney's wall of isolation when two things happen. The first is him meeting a fellow woman frequent flyer (Vera Farmiga) who leads a life similar to his and with whom he finds himself having a better time than usual. The second is when this young graduate with a diploma that would put Stephen Hawking to shame is recruited by his company based on her idea to cut costs by firing people via a web conference call as opposed to doing it in person. Clooney is so change averse and so worried about not achieving his dream that he takes this young recruit with him on a tour of duty during which both learn a thing or two about life.
I can't say whether Up in the Air is a comedy or a drama but the cavalcade of analogies that form the basis of the movie's message concerning the importance of relationships is, overall, quite impressive. They're everywhere and in every scene; sometimes they're funny and sometimes they're sad, but they're effective.
With an atypical ending finishing things off in a broody kind of a way, Up in the Air left me thinking. No, by now I'm not used to seeing a seriously good mainstream American film, especially not one that tries to make you think, but Up in the Air is one such film.
Best scene: Clooney and his young apprentice inform the ever excellent J.K Simmons he’s fired. As Clooney scrambles to spin the event and present it as an opportunity for Simmons to finally fulfill his dreams us viewers receive a demonstration of some very fine acting.
Technical assessment: The picture is quite good on this Blu-ray. So is the sound, although it has to be said this is a soundtrack that works through subtleties rather than bombardment. I like it because it demonstrates how the Blu-ray format’s sound delivery capabilities can be used to deliver a fine rather than aggressive experience; I doubt a DVD would be able to come up with the goods as well.
Overall: Smart and made well enough to merit 4 out of 5 stars.


Wicked Little Critta said...

I really liked this one. It says a lot without beating viewers over the head with cliches and recycled stories. And the acting was great.

My one issue: how are these companies (that are in so much financial trouble they're practically closing down) affording to pay people to fire employees for them??

Moshe Reuveni said...

Thanks for stating clearly in one sentence what I wasn't able to say in my entire review.

As for your issue... You've never been a part of a massive retrenchment effort, have you? The ones I have seen (and the one where I got sacked myself) were pretty much like the film depicts it; the main difference was the external consultants did not have one on one sessions with each sacked employee.
I think the problem with your issue is that it assumes the managers doing the sacking use proper logic. They don't, and in many cases the sacking is a political move rather than a pure financial move (as in, the managers showing they’re doing something, regardless of whether it’s the right thing to do).
I think I won't be in error at all if I was to say that the really good managers who make proper evidence based decisions are an animal close to extinction. I often wonder whether the really good manager that also has some sense of morality isn't already extinct.

wile.e.coyote said...

When I saw the movie I finally understood what do Engineers of MAASIAA and TIUL (industrial engineer) are doing all day long.
No, I don't mean to say that they are making their hair stand in the right position and with the proper side parting (did I say that Clony is my hair hero?)

Moshe Reuveni said...

There is a lot of truth in what you say. I clearly remember the university lessons on how to deal with situations where you're telling employees that cuts are due. On the other hand, not all Industrial Engineers deal with such things, and if you don't like doing them you can just avoid doing these things. It's called free will.
For the record, I never dealt with laying people off and such. Not that I didn't do my share of stuff that can be interpreted as having dubious morality, such as calculations on maximizing overbooking efficiencies.
However, before you go mocking others, look yourself in the mirror. What is the difference between a company laying employees off and a company that chooses not to employ more employees in the name of higher profits? The question at hand is an ethical question that doesn't have a conclusive solution. My approach to the question has been to simply renounce capitalism. You, on the other hand, take pride in having the opposite view to mine, which puts you in not that comfortable a position when it comes to criticizing others.

Anyway, where I fully agree with you is that culture of weakling employees who bring in external consultants that do nothing but provide a nice cover for managers' asses. Usually such services are charged much higher fees than the cost of the employees made redundant.