George Clooney is the safest bet in Hollywood these days. If you take a drive to the movie theater, or adjust your Netflix queue or visit a Redbox unit, odds are that if you take a chance on a Clooney flick you won’t be disappointed. He has become a home run hitter not only as an actor, but as a director and producer as well, and he has shown a keen eye for choosing scripts that provide him with the opportunity to make meaningful movies that hold some type of social significance, and The Descendants is no different.
Director Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt) helms the 2011 film The Descendants, and crafts a timely film that wrestles with some pretty hefty themes including destiny and opportunity, family, and life and death. Payne’s artistic touch blends a powerful drama and genuine comedy and allows the film to develop at a remarkable pace, allowing the actors to explore those important themes with the gorgeous setting of Hawaii adding a unique flavor to the film. The Descendants is a film that follows a family in the midst of great tragedy and great opportunity, and Payne’s expert direction puts the needed touch on a film that has already garnered the Golden Globe award for Best Drama, and Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Director (Payne), and Best Actor (Clooney), and an Academy Award victory for Best Adapted Screenplay for Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash (yes, Dean Pelton from Community).
Clooney’s performance as Matt King is a wonderful combination of humor and heartbreak as a father dealing with an accident involving his wife that puts his domestic life in turmoil, and a land deal involving his extended family that puts his personal and private lives on a collision course that cannot be avoided. Clooney’s touch of unmistakable charm permeates the entire film, but it’s the constant emotional earthquake brewing within him that gives the movie the unique complexity necessary to elevate itself from other films that deal with similar subject matter. Clooney’s performance is indeed award-worthy, and he was very worthy of all the accolades, including a Best Actor nomination at this year’s Academy Awards, he received for his work.
The rest of the ensemble cast manages to rise to the occasion and match Clooney scene for scene throughout the film. A very pleasant surprise was the performance of Shailene Woodley as Matt’s oldest daughter Alexandra in her feature film debut. She plays the role of a rebel but also couples that with the portrayal of a loyal daughter looking out for her father, and the turn is indeed worthy of praise.
Overall, The Descendants is one of the finest films to be released inside the last calendar year. It’s a movie that has something to say and doesn’t shy away from saying it, and it’s helmed by one of the most consistent pairings of an actor and director with Clooney and Payne each bringing their A-game to push the film into elite status as a must-see as a wondeful character study with vibrant characters and phenomenal pacing.
Grade: 8.5/10 (Great)