REVIEWS- Up In The Air & Crazy Heart

Best actors
Reviews by Vives Anunciacion
Inquirer Libre March 1, 2010

Up In The Air
Directed by Jason Reitman

Crazy Heart
Based on the novel by Thomas Cobb
Directed by Scott Cooper

If you feel like getting an Oscar fix, make sure you see these two before the Awards are given next week: Up in the Air starring George Clooney, and Crazy Heart starring Jeff Bridges. Both are intimate character dramas showcasing incredible performances from the leads to the supports. Both movies are perfect compliments to the razzle-dazzle of fellow Best Picture contenders The Hurt Locker and Avatar.

Now, Mr. Clooney gets nominated for a trophy in just about every movie he appears in, and it’s no wonder he’s done it again as Ryan Bingham in Up In The Air. It’s a little tricky to describe what Ryan does for a living – he works for a company hired by other companies to tell their people that they’re fired. In these days of recession, Ryan is so much in demand going from one city to another that he practically lives up in the air.

Ryan is also a successful motivational speaker who believes that everything a person needs can fit in a backpack, and all the other things (like mortgage, marriage, love) just add to the weight that the shoulders must carry. Until, of course, the women arrive.

First is Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a maverick newbie who threatens to relegate Ryan and his kind to extinction by introducing his company to the cost-efficiency of the internet webcam. Her non-personal methods are quite opposite Ryan’s and is the film’s first turning point when they are thrown together in an assignment.

And then there’s Alex (Vera Farmiga), a woman much like Ryan professionally and personally – successful and independent. The two make a lovely pair, but there’s always a catch, especially after Ryan decides that he can actually leave his metaphorical backpack for a real person.

Up in the Air is feels like an old movie – like one of those relationship dramedies from Woody Allen or Billy Wilder. It feels intimate even if there are lots of small, different characters and yet it all boils down to Ryan. Clooney floods the screen with all forms of nuances that it is difficult not to feel the eventual liberation at the end. Kendrick is also pitch-perfect as the sharky young maverick.

Similarly, Jeff Bridges plays an aging country singer Bad Blake on tour across the US Midwest in Crazy Heart.

Unlike Ryan who travels from one big city to another, Bad is traveling from one small town to another – playing his old hits to aging fans and earning just a little to keep him going, but not even enough to buy himself a bottle of good whiskey. 

This is Jeff Bridges’ version to Mickey Rourke’s Randy “The Ram” in The Wrestler – a career-defining moment except that Mr. Bridges was never known as a bad boy of Hollywood, only that he is one of the better character actors around. Bridges’ Bad Blake starts out a pig of a man – sweats like a pig one can almost smell his stink. Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal) a newswriter who tames Bad’s ferocity, but more importantly, Gyllenhaal’s performance complements Bridges’ that, combined, makes for an electrifying on-screen pair.

There’s a discernable change in method between Bridges’s relaxed, toned down breathing of Bad Blake and Colin Farrel’s regular rock star Tommy – Bad’s protégé and former show partner. Next to Bridges’ screen presence, Farrel is just a baby. Also, Bridges looks like he performed his songs live, much more convincing than Joaquin Phoenix’s pre-recorded ditties in Walk the Line. However, Crazy Heart’s screenplay is just okay as a non-plot driven character piece, as opposed to Up In The Air which is overloaded with layers.

In both Up in the Air and Crazy Heart, the men are liberated from what shackles their spirits, but the keys are in many ways the women they met, who introduced them to who they really are. Success stories both, either 35,000 feet above or down in a small town amphitheater.

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