RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
In Hollywood, they're already into the season - the awards season, that is. Film critic Kenneth Turan says one movie that deserves the Oscar buzz it's getting opens this weekend.
KENNETH TURAN: "Up In The Air" makes it look easy. It blends entertainment and insight, comedy and poignance, even drama and reality, and never seems to break a sweat.
"Up In The Air" stars George Clooney as Ryan, a corporate hit man who flies around the country firing people for companies who are too timid to do it themselves. Ryan loves the soothing predictability that goes with high-end business travel. He's made a science of security lines and moves cards through optical devices like scanning was an Olympic sport.
Two women throw Ryan off his confident stride. First is a whip-smart numbers cruncher from his office, played by Anna Kendrick, who questions everything he believes in. She's frankly dubious as he tells her about his personal quest for 10 million frequent-flyer miles.
Ms. ANNA KENDRICK (Actress): (as Natalie Keener) Isn't 10 million just a number?
Mr. GEORGE CLOONEY (Actor): (as Ryan Bingham) Pi is just a number.
Ms. KENDRICK: (as Natalie Keener) Well, we all need a hobby. No, I don't mean to belittle your collection. I get it. It sounds cool.
Mr. CLOONEY: (as Ryan Bingham) I'd be the seventh person to do it. More people have walked on the moon.
Ms. KENDRICK: (as Natalie Keener) Do they throw you a parade?
Mr. CLOONEY: (as Ryan Bingham) You get lifetime executive status. You get to meet the chief pilot, Maynard Finch.
Ms. KENDRICK: (as Natalie Keener) Wow.
Mr. CLOONEY: (as Ryan Bingham) And they put your name on the side of a plane.
Ms. KENDRICK: (as Natalie Keener) You guys don't grow up. It's like you need to pee on everything.
TURAN: Then Ryan catches the eye of a business traveler named Alex, who shares his love for frequent flying, and who is as passionate about the system as he is.
Ms. VERA FARMIGA (Actress): (as Anna Kendrick) I put up pretty pedestrian numbers, like 60 thou a year domestic.
Mr. CLOONEY: (as Ryan Bingham) It's not bad.
Ms. FARMIGA: (as Anna Kendrick) Don't patronize me. What's your total?
Mr. CLOONEY: (as Ryan Bingham) That's a personal question.
Ms. FARMIGA: (as Anna Kendrick) Oh, please.
Mr. CLOONEY: (as Ryan Bingham) Well, we hardly know each other.
Ms. FARMIGA: (as Anna Kendrick) Oh, come on. Show some hubris. Come on. Impress me. I bet it's huge.
Mr. CLOONEY: (as Ryan Bingham) You have no idea.
TURAN: Played by the exceptional Vera Farmiga, Alex is so much Ryan's psychic twin that he finds himself synchronizing schedules with her so they can share steamy airport rendezvous.
Credit for all this goes to writer-director Jason Reitman, who used a novel by Walter Kirn as his jumping-off point. The question "Up In The Air" poses is whether Ryan's detachment can survive contact with genuine emotion.
The answer turns out to be complex, a further reason to celebrate a director who has filmmaking in his bones.
MONTAGNE: The movie is "Up in the Air." Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles times.
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