George Clooney is very good here as Ryan Bingham, an employee termination specialist, whose solitary life of airplanes and hotel rooms is about to undergo intense scrutiny. A young upstart (a powerful Anna Kendrick) comes along with an idea to save Bingham’s company money: Severance by wi-fi. In danger of being grounded, he takes his protege on the road to show her the “diginity” of face-to-face layoffs. Vera Farmiga gives another strong performance as Bingham’s female alter-ego, a woman as turned on by business suits, hotel bars, and rewards points as he is, and with whom he carries on a cross-country affair.
Strong moments, full of sharp and observant writing, such as when Kendrick’s ladder-climber gives her new idea a test run on an unsuspecting victim and can barely contain herself at the man’s reaction. The scenes between Clooney and Farmiga have a disturbing resonance, as they engage in a battle of will both sexual and elitist. Watch as they compare rewards points in a bar, and practically have sex on the table when one pulls out a card the other has never seen.
Unfortunately, the second half of the film descends into Hollywood cliches, practically destroying the strength of what comes before it. It all but falls apart during a grossly trite scene where Bingham gives his future brother-in-law a pep talk peppered with the same platitudes he’s already practiced on countless former employees. The exchange could have been powerful, but is instead played like something out of a rudimentary comedy. And the montage of Clooney and Farmiga at a wedding is downright manipulative, with its sentimental indie soundtrack lulling us into complacence, just so it can set us up for an unexpected shock near the end of the film. Some things are just unforgivable.
Not a complete loss; but after the strength of Juno, I expected better from a filmmaker of Jason Reitman’s caliber.