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Posted 8 March 2010

Sack-anxious times – Suddenly everyone is talking about getting the sack. Even those with so-called safe jobs. At dinner parties all we seem to talk about is who’d got the sack; who we’d like to see get the sack. And when will it be our turn?

You have to give it to the actor George Clooney: he’s got a knack for perfect timing. Just as thousands are waiting for the pink slip, he released a funny yet moving film “Up in the air” which deals with the casual cruelty of corporations when it comes to rationalising and downsizing.

In this film, Mr Clooney plays a slick, high-flying hit man, Ryan Bingham. His job is to make sure you lose your job. He’s hired by companies who want an outsider to come in and do their dirty deeds. He axes jobs with a sincere smile, phony compassion and the bla bla of career-transition counseling.

What’s his motivation? Well, Clooney's Bingham lives for the life of airport lounges, rented cars and executive suites. His main goal is to reach the ten-million-mile plateau on his frequent-flyer account. To that end he has downsized his life — no children, no committed relationships, an empty flat.

The Left’s Old Guard would have called him a character mask: all surface and no soul. Take it as a sign how far we have come since the ideological battles of the Eighties: Bingham would even thank you for the compliment.

Since this film is some sort of screwball comedy, Bingham’s hub-to-hub life is threatened when his colleague Natalie Keener (nomen est omen), played by Anna Kendrick, comes up with idea of firing people by teleconference, so they never have to leave the home office.

Bingham is horrified, but the boss orders him to take Natalie on the road, to get a first-hand look at what he does. There, Bingham meets Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), his female alter ego.

I do not want to give the plot away, but people stifle your sobs: Bingham doesn’t go soft at the end.

Critics have been undecided as to whether it was a brilliant move to have real people who lost their jobs during the recession go on camera and share their pain. About a dozen or so heartfelt testimonies are woven into the film which bring a tearful authenticity to the suffering Bingham leaves in his wake.

Many of my friends who saw the film completely missed this point: they just thought these were a bunch of supporting actors displaying a mix of raw emotions – from stony incredulity to outright horror - when told they were to go.

Other cinema goers may think this parade of weeping men and depressed women highly cynical: but then, again, why shouldn’t filmic entertainment mix in an element of documentary reporting and make room for the human anguish of the statistics we hear about in our daily news coverage?

The film “Up in the air” will be out on DVD in June.

 

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