The potent mix of an intelligent, witty script, an excellent cast led by George Clooney and timely, poignant subject matter insures 'Up in the Air' manages that toughest of balancing acts: tickling the funny bone and tugging the heartstrings in equal measures.

Ryan Bingham (Clooney) is modern man. Flying across the US all but 43 days a year to be the bearer of bad news, Bingham loves airports, hotels and a life totally bereft of commitment. He speaks at engagements where he espouses the philosophy of becoming attached to no person or thing. He is also a 'Terminator', someone who is paid very generously to tell employees that their services are no longer needed, by bosses who are too afraid to do it themselves. Unsurprisingly, with America gone bust, business is booming for Bingham.

On the road he meets Alex (Farmiga), a kindred spirit in the world of frequent flyers, who he instantly shares a bond with. In a truly 2010 meeting, they get acquainted while comparing rental car outlets and customer loyalty cards, arranging to meet again by keying in dates on a laptop to synchronise schedules.

Although business is booming, however, technology starts to threaten Bingham's life in the skies. Co-worker Natalie (Kendrick) has found the perfect way to cut the company's travel costs, and introduced the concept of firing by video conference. Even to a man like Bingham this is especially callous. However, he is assigned to take Natalie on the road and show her the nuances of telling people they're fired. After a video-firing scheme is piloted successfully in Detroit, Bingham is grounded and told to return home.

Before returning back to his one-bedroom apartment in Omaha, however, he brings Alex to his sister's wedding. Reassuring his sister's fiancé, who is having cold feet, that relationships and marriage are indeed the most important things in life, he begins to awaken to that fact himself. Before long, Bingham starts to question his ethos on life and think about finding a co-pilot.

Helped in no small part by a stand-out, memorable performance by its lead actor, 'Up in the Air' is one of those rarest breeds; a credible, edgy mainstream comedy, which while certainly not short on laughs also has plenty to say about the society we live in.

Clooney brings depth and feeling to the role of Bingham, so much so that despite the character's occupation and outlook, you can't help rooting for him. There has never really been any doubt about Clooney's comic credentials - you just have to look at 'O Brother! Where Art Thou' or 'Burn After Reading' - but here comedy is tempered with vulnerability. He and Farmiga shine in every scene.

Masterfully directed by Jason 'Juno' Reitman, this effective film contains a poignant message about the pain a recession inflicts on everyday people. Apart from two actors, the would-be workers fired by Clooney and Kendrick were all played by people who had recently lost their jobs, and the results are powerful. Anger, sadness, questioning and rage are all present, sometimes all from the same person.

A truly modern story in these times of economic uncertainty, 'Up in the Air' stays perfectly matched between comedy and drama, never failing to entertain despite focussing on what damage a damaged economy can inflict.

Nominated for six Golden Globe awards, including Best Picture, Actor and Director, and hotly-tipped for Oscar success, in these heady days of early January, it quite possibly could be one of the films of 2010.

Padraic Geoghegan