Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Up in the Air and Crazy Heart

I saw Up in the Air and Crazy Heart with my father recently.

Up in the Air brings to six the number of films nominated in the 2010 Academy Award Best Picture category. The other five were District 9, Inglourious Basterds, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, A Serious Man and Up.

Up in the Air starring George Clooney; directed by Jason Reitman; (2009) - Official Website
Crazy Heart starring Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal; (2009) - Official Website


Up in the Air is a character study of an isolated man, Ryan Bingham (George Clooney). Bingham is a termination specialist; I can't remember what his title was in the film. He flies around the country laying off workers for client firms. I question whether that premise is valid. Bingham fires these people without a representative of the company the workers are employed by present. That seems unrealistic to me but maybe it really happens. Bingham has a sidejob as a motivational speaker. His best selling book is What's in Your Parachute where he advises people to discard everything but the barest of essentials in their lives. He practices what he preaches. He lives in a spartan apartment, is not married, has no children, estranged from his family, no girlfriend, etc. He spends 320 days a year flying around the country. He has an odd mixture of detachment and professional compassion while he dismisses employee after employee. His sole goal in life seems to be to attain 10 million miles flown with American Airlines. He keeps that goal guarded.

Two women enter his life which makes him question his own choices. Anna Kendrick plays a young college graduate hired on by Bingham's firm. Her great idea is to save time and money by having the terminators do their thing over the internet. Instead of meeting face-to-face, the termination will happen via webcam and real-time interaction over the internet. That will save on travel and lodging expenses. Of course, it'll also derail Bingham's solipsistic and nomadic existence. After pointing out the shortcomings with Kendrick's plan, Bingham is saddled with her as she flies around the country with him as he shows her how he handles the face-to-face firings with at least the veneer of compassion.

The other woman is Vera Farmiga, a fellow frequent flier who starts a fling with Bingham as their travel schedules allow. I don't use the romance because it's not quite a romance but it is much more than a series of sexual couplings.

The two women will profoundly affect Bingham's life over the course of the film. I won't delve further into the plot since it was widely reviewed and praised. Clooney gives a solid performances. All his performances are solid but he seems to play the suave, detached man with aplomb and weariness. He's got it down pat.

Farmiga & Kendrick were nominated for Best Supporting Actress. I wasn't quite as impressed; nice performances but not superlative. The whole film can be described as solid - solid performances, solid plot, solid direction, etc. I recall the opening sequence with the aerial shots of landscapes and cityscapes as most memorable in an artistic sense.


The sound on the print of Crazy Heart seemed damaged or maybe it was the theater speakers. There was always noticeable static even during the silence which was very distracting.

I found the film to be a bit tedious. The C&W version of The Wrestler is an appropriate description. Mickey Rourke played the role with more abandon but Bridges brings a certain late middle-age weariness that you would expect from a hard-drinking, hard-smoking, hard-living, honky tonk-playing singer. He's nearly drank and/or smoked himself to death but he's still on the road playing bowling alleys and small bars in small New Mexico towns. Apparently Bad Blake (Bridges) was once a C&W star; now he's a down & out slob. In one small town, the bar owner asks if his niece (Gyllenhaal) can interview him for the town newspaper. She interviews him but I wish her character would have asked "Why am I attracted to a broken down has-been that is 25 years older than me?"

Gyllenhaal and Bridges embark on this May-December romance but his drinking gets the better of him and puts the kibosh on the relationship. The specifics are not important. The key plot point is that the end of the relationship is Bad Blake's lowpoint and he goes through a quick and painless alcohol rehab (at least that is what was depicted on screen). 16 months later, he is sober and raking in big bucks as a songwriter for C&W superstar Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell in an odd casting choice). Gyllenhaal meets up with him backstage at a Sweet conference. Bad Blake (now going by his Christian name of Otis) hands over a huge royalty check to Gyllenhaal to be given to her son when he is 18. Gyllenhaal flashes her engagement ring. Bridges accepts their relationship has no chance although he still tries to put his hand on her ass which she deftly outmaneuvers. End of story.

The long & the short of it is watching Jeff Bridges start off low, sink to rock bottom and find salvation without a bottle of whiskey. Bridges handles the role with an ease that makes one forget he is acting. He plays Blake as a barely functioning alcoholic. The difference between drunk Blake and sober Blake is subtle which probably won him the Academy Award for Best Actor. If there was a night & day aspect to Blake when sober, it would have been overacting.

Still, I couldn't figure out what Gyllenhaal's character saw in Blake especially when she was doting on her young son. She made a comment "I worry about him. He doesn't have any men in his life." I guess that is reason enough to get involved with a drunken old man. She admires his songwriting skills too. Never confuse the art with the artist. I believe one of the female characters said that to Woody Allen in The Front. Gyllenhaal's character could have saved herself a lot of heartache and possible child endangerment charges if she had heeded that advice.

Robert Duvall shows up as a Houston bar owner where Bad Blake performs regularly. The role was a little sparse. Duvall makes the most of a scene where he has to introduce his new Mexican bartender (Jose or Jesus, he can't remember which). Bridges and Duvall also show some flycasting skills.

I wasn't too impressed with Crazy Heart; better than most films but I could never really empathize with or for the characters.


Trivial coincident - the character George Clooney plays in Up in the Air is Ryan Bingham. An actor and musician named Ryan Bingham plays the bowling alley band leader in Crazy Heart.

Zach Galifianakis from The Hangover has a small (and more subdued) role in Up in the Air.

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