Thursday, November 17, 2011


Written by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Directed by Alexander Payne
Starring George Clooney, Shailene Woodley and Judy Greer

Matt King: I’m the back-up parent, the understudy.

It has been seven years since Alexander Payne’s last feature film, SIDEWAYS, charmed critics and audiences alike. The long gestation period has allowed him to make what I would describe as his most satisfying film to date, THE DESCENDANTS. Considering how much I love his earlier films, like ELECTION and ABOUT SCHMIDT, calling his latest his greatest is not a compliment I extend lightly.

At one point in THE DESCENDANTS, a character refers to Matt King’s (George Clooney) current predicament to be one heck of a “unique dramatic situation” and he is not kidding. Payne's witty screenplay finds every single important tie in Matt’s life tangled together and he can no longer move forward until he figures out how to loosen the ropes that are tightening around him. As the executor of his family’s estate, he is responsible for deciding what to do with a fine piece of Hawaiian real estate his ancestors left to him in trust, which has drawn much scrutiny from the locals. More importantly though, his wife is in a coma from a speed boating accident and he has two daughters (Amara Miller and breakout, Shailene Woodley) he barely knows to comfort and console. When he learns that his wife was cheating on him before her accident, it becomes pretty clear that the life he knew is now finished.

As particular as THE DESCENDANTS is, Payne infuses it with his special brand of humanity, sensitivity and humour. Payne has an uncanny knack for bringing his audiences right into the troubled minds of his characters, leaving both their pain and their potential exposed for all to see. In this case, all that heart and heartache seeps from every element of Clooney’s fine performance. With so much on his plate, you can constantly see the wheels turning in his head as he drifts off into thought in the gorgeous Hawaiian skyline.  He acts as a filter of sorts for everything coming before this moment in his life, now faced with the task of passing on only the best parts to his two beautiful daughters. In doing so, THE DESCENDANTS only passes on the best that contemporary drama has to offer to us.


Candice Frederick said...

i'm not a huge fan of Payne, and i'm not a big fan of clooney's acting so i'm curious to see what i think about this movie.

Andy Buckle said...

Can't wait for this. I love Sideways and if Clooney is at his best (Up in the Air, Michael Clayton) then this is an obvious must see. Excited by your five star rating, but it's not released in Australia until mid January - perhaps I'll be able to attend a screening between now and then, but still, it will be a while. At least I'll get a look at it before the Oscars.

Black Sheep said...

This is right now my front runner choice for film of the year. It was just so touching and felt so real. Entertaining without sacrificing any of its humanity. Very unique. I think this is distinctly Payne but also a fresh step forward for him too. A personal best actually.