Monday, April 26, 2010


Release Date: December 2009

Starring: George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, Vera Farmiga

Screenwriters: Sheldon Turner, Jason Reitman

Pitch: If you keep moving, life may never catch you. “Firing” squad specialist reconsiders his ways as two women shake his personal and professional worlds.

Rating: ****

What works:
- First, it’s an unusual job that is featured: a contract guy who flies around the U.S. terminating corporate employees. Not only is it unusual, the position is highly relevant in the current recession economy.

- The character is odd. A fortysomething who actually likes the fact his has no real home, no roots, no longterm relationships. And it’s the perfect role for Clooney, a suave A-list movie star who has never settled down to marriage and a family.

- The two female characters play extremely well off Clooney’s Ryan. One mirrors his no-strings-attached way of life, the other (Natalie) questions it. Ryan, in turn, spars with Natalie over her Internet-driven, impersonal plan for firing people more expeditiously. Ryan and Natalie are walking contradictions: each professing to care or not care when a large part of their lives defies this.

- There is sharp dialog throughout. Wish I could remember some of it now, but there were many WOW writing moments, especially the scenes between Ryan and Natalie as they pushed each other’s buttons.

Where it fumbles:
- The fact that Ryan would be summoned to save his sister’s wedding when the groom gets cold feet is a wonderful plot point for Ryan, a man who sees no value in marriage. His having to convince the groom actually leads to Ryan viewing commitment differently. Beautiful from a screenwriter’s perspective. Unfortunately, it is too contrived. Why is the groom sitting all alone as he thinks of bowing out of his wedding on the wedding day? Where are the best man and his family members? It is completely unrealistic that the long lost brother of the bride would be the one called in to give the pivotal pep talk.

- It was an unforeseen twist to have the woman Ryan has an affair with end up being not only married but a parent of young children. Methinks too unforeseen. One of those Gotcha screenwriting moments that is a letdown. How is this female character to be believed as being a mother who cares about her kids, given her extensive job traveling and her ballsy personality?

- This leads to an odd ending. Ryan at first seems not to care about reaching his ten million air miles goal. It seems he awakens inside to realize there is no heart in that achievement, not like what could have been achieved by being more involved with his sisters’ lives or by striving for something more than a carefree relationship with a woman. But no, in the end, he goes back to the air, continuing to travel the country firing people and apparently satisfied in doing so. Are we to really believe that, after a couple of epiphanies, he is just going back to life as he knows it? Ryan hasn’t changed and it’s not at all satisfying. This is particularly frustrating because, up until the last ten or fifteen minutes, the movie was brilliant.

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