Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) spends most of his life traveling; 322 days last year, according to his count. He fires people for a living, traveling across the country from office to office to handle mass layoffs that inept bosses fail to stomach. He also works part-time as a motivational speaker with his “What’s in your backpack” philosophy of minimizing your life. He’s great at his job, meets women on the road (Vera Farmiga plays love interest Alex Goran) and the lifestyle suits him perfectly. But his way of life is threatened when Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a young, hot-shot Cornell grad, comes in with plans to cut corporate costs by implementing a video chat system to fire employees. For his final trip “up in the air”, Bingham’s boss Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman) charges Bingham with showing Keener the ropes and reality of firing for on the job training before the company fully transitions to the new system.
We’ve all seen George Clooney be charming, and in that respect this role is perfect for him, and even written by Juno director Jason Reitman with Clooney in mind. But what makes this performance special is the complexity that comes with his charming, smooth nature. There’s a unique innocence to his charisma, a pleasure in enjoying his world and satisfaction in being great at what he does.