With Up in the Air, director Jason Reitman has certainly solidified his status as a talented young director with a bright future. His debut, Thank You For Smoking, showed a gift for sharp satire, and 2007’s surprise hit Juno earned him an Oscar nomination, as well as garnering its own Best Picture nomination. The third time could be the charm for Reitman, and if the National Board of Review has any prognostic abilities (it recently named Up in the Air its Best Film of the Year), his latest feature just might walk away with the evening’s highest honors come the Academy Awards ceremony in March.

The film stars George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a man who you would rather not encounter at your place of work. Bingham fires people for a living, though he never utters that dirty little f-word himself, instead preferring to stress to those being let go that this “career transition” is really an opportunity for them to go out and live their dreams. Those unfortunate enough to be across the table from him are not convinced by his spiel. Neither are we.

In today’s tough economy, Bingham is in high demand, and his job requires he be constantly in transit, stepping off of one plane only to board another. Not that he minds, in fact, it is the 43 miserable days that Bingham spends at home which trouble him most. Instead of forming any meaningful relationships on the ground, Bingham has made it his goal to acquire an exorbitant amount of frequent flyer miles. So he’s understandably shocked when Natalie Keener, a 23-year old whiz kid played as a real spitfire by Anna Kendrick, proposes that their consulting firm greatly reduce its travel budget by eliminating cross-country plane rides and moving its downsizing operations online via video chat. To Bingham’s dismay, his boss (a pitch-prefect Jason Bateman) jumps on board with the idea, and, worse, appoints Bingham as Natalie’s mentor, sending her to tag along with him on the road.

Aside from being a timely examination of the merciless way corporations lay off workers (Reitman cast real people who had just lost their jobs for montages in which fired employees describe the devastation of being newly unemployed), Up in the Air also works as a romantic comedy. Vera Farmiga lights up the screen as Alex, a woman Bingham meets at an airport hotel bar. Their first encounter is exhilarating. Their banter rings of double-entendres as they share opinions on rental car firms, airlines, and hotels. Their brilliantly scripted exchanges match the quality of those from films made during the strict enforcement of the Production Code in the 1940s and 1950s when writers used clever dialogue to insinuate sex, which could not be shown on screen.

Bingham falls for Alex, and seems to warm up to the notion of settling down with her one day. He also has an opportunity to reconnect with the two sisters he has lost contact with, one of whom is getting married and has invited him to the impending wedding. But just when it looks like Bingham’s life is headed for a smooth landing, some turbulence comes his way. After a brush with sentimentality, Reitman brings the film back down to reality with an ending that remains true to the material and how the main characters have developed throughout the film.

It is hard not to like Up in the Air, which some critics may find to be one of its flaws, arguing that it should have been angrier than it is and more focused on the employees Bingham fires rather then Bingham himself. While the film could have been a bit more hard-hitting in those areas, what it captures wonderfully is our ability or more often lack of ability to connect to others in meaningful ways today. Ironically, when referring to flying, the term “connection” perfectly describes Bingham’s life, as he makes an endless amount of airline connections, traveling from one city to the next. What is missing in his life however, and what Kendrick’s character did not understand when she suggested firing people over the Internet, is the power of face-to-face human connections, which are becoming increasingly more rare in the technology fueled society we live in today.

Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Melanie Lynskey, Danny McBride, Amy Morton.

Director: Jason Reitman

Writer: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner. Based on the novel by Walter Kirn.

Runtime: 109 min.

Rated: R

Distributer: Paramount Pictures