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Jason Reitman’s directing George Clooney’s acting = the best Great Recession movie yet

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It’s easy to aim critical barbs when a movie goes wrong: Blame the writer, the director or the star. It’s a little dicier when you have to figure out who the kudos should go to, especially when something as good as Up in the Air comes along.

But let’s start with director Jason Reitman, who is now, in my opinion, three for three (after Thank You for Smoking and Juno). The son of director-producer Ivan Reitman, he has a way of getting inside his characters’ usually fl awed heads and presenting them as people who want so badly to do the right thing. Reitman also happens to have a very sharp cinema sensibility; he knows where to put the camera and how to move it and, working closely with editor Dana Glauberman for the third time, when to cut to or away from a person or thing for the strongest effect.

Which leads to a whole different set of kudos for George Clooney, here playing the suave, sure-of-himself, ever-traveling Ryan Bingham, a corporate hatchet man — the guy who is hired by companies that don’t have the guts to lay off or fire people and instead call Bingham in to do the job.

Reitman equals excellent direction, and Clooney equals superb acting. On top of that, the film is a solid character study of this — you guessed it — flawed individual. Ryan is a lost soul, hooked on travel and collecting air miles, always ready for another one-night stand, but suddenly dissatisfied with his neat little world when the threat of change enters it via the new kid in town, Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a hotshot upstart who has plans to revolutionize his industry — plans that will, heaven forfend, ground him.

Reitman has a very sharp cinema sensibility; he knows where to put the camera and how to move it.

It’s Clooney’s luggage and initially carefree, eventually worried face that Reitman keeps training his cameras on, and it’s Clooney’s way with a phrase or the soft, gravelly tone of his voice that draws viewers in.

Though Ryan is charming, we don’t really know if he’s a nice guy, but we’re quickly rooting for him. We badly want the relationship between him and another high-fl ier (Vera Farmiga) to work, after they pretty much pick each other up in a bar. And even though the fi lm’s conclusion will satisfy viewers, there are just enough plot strands that Reitman purposely left dangling to make Up in the Air live up to its name — and make us wish it went on a little longer.

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