George Clooney plays a corporate hatchetman who travels around America firing people for a living. Enjoying a solitary life with no complications, the emotionally detached bachelor finds his resolve tested when he meets beautiful travelling businesswoman Vera Farmiga - but can he really change his ways? Based on the book by Walter Kirn, director Jason Reitman follows Juno with this expertly-crafted comedy showcasing a superb performance from the housewife's favourite.
While Clooney's previous comedies have been a little hit and miss (for every Burn After Reading there's a Leatherheads), not only does Up In The Air soar, it also contains one of his most charming, funny and vulnerable performances to date.
Essentially skewering Gorgeous George's playboy persona with a frequently hilarious yet devastatingly poignant script, Juno director Reitman has created a comedy of real dramatic substance that's as witty as it is wise.
Clooney is Ryan Bingham, a 'career transition counselor' who spends his life jetting around the US firing staff for employers who can't face doing it themselves.
While he approaches these encounters with the grace, charm and solemnity of an undertaker, Bingham has little use for human relationships outside of work, living a solitary life where he's most at home in airport terminals and hotel bars.
When his exuberant boss Craig (Bateman) plans to revolutionise the profession by firing their clients' employees via video link, Bingham sees his no-strings-attached life crumbling before his eyes.
The brainchild of pushy new employee Natalie Keener (Kendrick), the scheme is so abhorrent to Bingham that he agrees to take her out on the road to demonstrate why the human touch is crucial in professional sacking.
As Natalie gets a startling glimpse of the messy emotional complexities inherent in the job, Bingham embarks on a passionate affair with another frequent flier, businesswoman Alex (Farmiga).
Slowly warming to Natalie and pressured to become involved in the preparations for his younger sister's upcoming wedding, Bingham begins to rethink his life of solitude and considers opening up to Alex.
While it may sound like humdrum romcom fare mixed with the first 20 minutes of Fight Club, this modern world-weary tale of loneliness, social dislocation and dehumanising corporate culture is anything but trite.
Along with a fine screenplay that sidesteps cliche at every turn, Reitman's real coup is the strength of the actors he's brought on-board to make cameos as the workers facing a firing.
JK Simmons, The Hangover's Zach Galifianakis and a host of other top notch performers bring real weight to the uncomfortable confrontations, these short scenes being integral to the film rather than a gimmicky excuse to flaunt familiar faces.
Nevertheless, it's Clooney's show and the star effortlessly slips into a role immaculately tailored for his brand of knowing, cooler-than-thou self-assuredness.
While Clooney has let an air of smugness creep into his work over the years, his performance as Bingham lays bare the insecurities, impotencies and closely-guarded failings of the lone wolf archetype he's become so adept at playing both on-screen and off.
As a result it's his most honest, complex and fascinating performance in recent memory, but Kendrick, Bateman and Farmiga deserve equal praise for their pitch perfect support.
Funny, thought-provoking, uplifting and tragic, Up In The Air is a first class comedy that's not afraid to travel to some difficult destinations.