Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Descendants: Family Loyalty, Life & Love in Hawaii

George Clooney has had a remarkable run of performances in recent years, in films like Michael Clayton, Up In The Air and The Ides of March. He’s added another fine acting job to that list. In 2011’s The Descendants, he plays Matt King, a Hawaii-based lawyer whose wife Elizabeth is in a coma after a boating accident. This leaves Matt to take care of their two daughters, Alexandra and Scottie. He’s been something of an absentee father, and now has to cope with their behavior (they’re both acting out at school), and deal with them as a parent in ways he didn’t previously.

He is told Elizabeth will never wake up, and he’ll have to make a decision regarding unhooking her from life support. In an emotional conversation with Alexandra, Matt learns his wife was having an affair. He’s shocked to find his family life & his world was not as well ordered as he thought. Matt decides to track down the man she was sleeping with, to confront him, and to give him a chance to visit Elizabeth. He’s also dealing with a larger family issue: he’s the trustee of a large portion of land the family owns, and the group is trying to make a decision on whether to sell it and make a huge profit.

As the story unfolds, we see all the emotions come to life in Clooney’s face, as he deals with these issues. You really feel this character’s journey as he comes to a new understanding about his family, and his life. It’s a quiet, understated performance, quite unlike the cool characters we’re used to seeing in movies like the Ocean’s films and Out of Sight. The rest of the cast is superb as well, with Shailene Woodley a standout as the older daughter, Alexandra. There’s also good work from Robert Forster, Judy Greer and Beau Bridges in supporting roles.

The film is directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways, Election) and he unfolds the story slowly, focusing on the characters and their relationships. The Oscar winning screenplay is by Payne, Nat Raxon and Jim Rash, based on the novel by Kari Hart Hemmings. The beautiful Hawaiian locations and authentic music score add a great deal of atmosphere to the movie. This is a sincere, well-acted comedy drama that is truly one of the best films of 2011. It’s a movie that sneaks up on you a little, and will resonate with you after you watch it.

The Descendants is alternately funny & heartbreaking, and has some real truths to impart about life & family. It’s one of my favorite films of 2011. In this writer’s opinion (with all due respect to the other nominees and winner Jean Dujardin), Clooney deserved the Best Actor award for his role. The film is now available on DVD and Blu-ray with an assortment of extras that include interviews with the cast & crew, though the Blu-ray features more extra content. Highly Recommended.

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