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The Descendants - Film Review

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by Haydn Radford (subscribe)
Haydn Radford -A freelance writer born in Adelaide, who loves living here. I write about movies, theatre, entertainment, literary and art events. I am happy to promote & review your events.
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Copyright Fox Searchlight Pictures

The Descendants is the latest film from co-writer/director/producer Alexander Payne (Election, About Schmidt and Sideways) and is by far his best film. Ironically, Payne won an Oscar for Sideways after rejecting George Clooney for the lead role. With Descendants, Clooney scored the lead role and has won a Golden Globe for his brilliant performance as Matt King, a Honolulu lawyer, landowner, sole trustee of a family trust, who is on the verge of selling 25,000 acres of inherited virgin Kauai land for millions of dollars.

To say the least, King has been neglectful as a husband and a father. His wife, Elizabeth is mortally injured in a water skiing accident in the opening scenes, which render her comatose. As a father, Matt King admits to being a "backup-parent" and his "family seems like an archipelago" with "the women in his life wanting to destroy themselves". He has two daughters; Scottie (Amara Miller), a 10 year old who is moody and naive and the troubled, foul mouth 17 year old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley), who has suggested problems with boys and booze.

During some heated arguments with Alexandra, Matt learns that she has been avoiding her mother when she discovered prior to the accident, that Elizabeth was having an affair with a real estate agent Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard). Alexandra's madcap friend, Sid (Nick Klaus) brings some wonderful comic relief to various situations. Sid is so believable, but you wonder what planet he is from or on, when he offers his interpretations and solutions to what is happening. His character develops with surprising candour as he adds to the plot. The entire cast contributes excellent performances; especially the girls and Sid are especially good, occasionally stealing a scene with their biting humour.

Clooney shows he is prepared to be seen over-weight, going grey and unfit; check out the scene when he jogs down the street to his friends' home, it is so funny. I am sure many of us can identify with such a non-athletic experience.

Payne has avoided the temptation of creating a tissue grabbing soap opera. Instead he creates a movie that shows King realising how much his workaholic lifestyle has cost him as he struggles to resolve his various conflicts with his wife and two daughters. However, despite the serious nature of the story, Payne allows some wonderful comic relief from the various characters to build their relationships as the story unfolds.

I found the opening scenes of headless overweight disabled people, homeless and down and outs with Matt's voice over telling us that Hawaii isn't the tropical paradise we are led to believe it is, quite distasteful. To quote Matt, "Paradise can go f*** itself." Well, if this was to show how he lacks empathy and understanding towards less fortunate people, as another side to his character, it really wasn't necessary. His daughters' rejection of him and his voice over confessions laying bare his neglect to his wife and family provide a clear understanding of how alien they are to him.

The Descendants is a must see for 2012. Possibly not the movie I would suggest everyone take the whole family to see, however, some folk may encounter some interesting points for discussion and relationship development.

Stars: ****1/2 out of *****
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Why? One of Clooney's greatest performances
Where: In cinemas
Cost: Check your local cinemas for details.
Your Comment
I completely agree. Clooney's performance has absolute conviction and a very distinct raw quality. Payne has handled the sensitive nature of the material with utter scrutiny and subtlety. It was thoroughly engaging and hilarious in all the right places. A definite must-see. 4.5 stars from me too.
by Matt Elliot Taylor (score: 1|22) 3117 days ago
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