Ryan Bingham’s a corporate downsizer; an expert whose expertise lies in firing people from their jobs, with a disdain of swatting a mosquito. He’s a gladiator who swings the club of unemployment at hapless “resources” to entertain their bosses. For someone who who shoves the proverbial last nail, his karma does look pretty good. He lives out of a suitcase, travels business class and furtively saves up flyer miles by the million, to make it to an elite club of patrons. That’s the closest romantic aspiration his dispassionate life lets him have, till he runs into Alex. Like him she’s a shallow soul- looking to sidestep reality – , judging people by the names on their plastic money. She lights up the first time, when she runs her hand on one of his cards and gets told that it’s made of graphite. One thing leads to another and soon they find themselves canoodling naked beneath a rummaged bed. That’s the closest Ryan’s goes with excitement of the human kind. By own admission, he comes alive during transit and decays at home. He constantly finds the urge to be on the move. He calls the terminals his home and is content with the stimulated hospitality, a perk of being a loyal patron of the airlines.
A petite surprise awaits him back at work in the form of a new recruit, who’s there to administer his own medicine to him. She’s there to digitize the entire shebang, to bring about a huge cost saving to the firm. But he sees it as an initiative to clip his wings. He belongs in the sky and this means gravity. He gets territorial with her, even tries and manipulates his boss about how his personal touch brings dignity- to people about to be dropped like a bad habit -that might virtually be compromised. He’s not concerned about the employees who’re about to go off the deep end, as much as he is about himself. He’s worried about the idea of a permanent home, a life without the leverage of escapism.The escapism which let him feel accompanied in a moving crowd.
To pilot her rather radical initiative, he accompanies his young colleague to shop on the battle field. He mentors her. Becomes her reality check, gradually getting her into becoming the headlight before deer, office after office. Often than not he sugarcoats his condescension with tongue in cheek sarcasm. Every time she tries to humanize the process, he reiterates to remain mechanical. They find themselves locking horns; trying to call out each other’s bluff. But at the end of this symbiotic love hate relationship, the protege begins to endear.Just as her warmth fizzles in his cold, he begins to melt down to her warmth.
Over the course of the film, his character metamorphoses organically like a butter melt through sunshine, without turning to cinematic hyperboles. Take for instance the scene where he sheepishly asks Alex to be his date to his sister’s wedding, from the precincts of his cocoon of self-banishment. Be it that scene where he surreptitiously regrets his offer to walk his sister down the aisle being turned down or the one where he’s stumped when he comes facewards with Alex’s reality. Clooney dishes out this conundrum beautifully, crafting vulnerability into Bingham’s fault lines. He makes the parallel thoughts occupying his head space palpable, making us moon for this inglorious gentleman.
Eventually Ryan does get the crown he yearns for, but one that is made of thorns. Irony has the last laugh with his entry into the elite flyers club coinciding with his loss of zest to fly. For what does the open sky mean to a sitting duck. He tilted hopefully to the very permanence he had run from all his life, to only be left behind with a permanent scar, in the place of an embrace. As the rug gets repeatedly pulled from under his feet by providence, he gives up the hopeless will to pursue a life different than before.His is an ordeal of an eagle who was at peace with the river’s current- when it believed itself to be a duck -till its first flight. That first flight brought with it, equal measure of pleasure and pain, with pain leaving a far bitter taste behind; for it to ever take to the skies again. Unperturbed it now swims in the same river, with the awareness of an ability to fly and the discretion given by the pain it brought.