The Descendants (2011)

The Descendants (2011) – George Clooney is one of those actors who has personality that tends to bleed through to whatever role he’s playing. There’s even a sort of charm in him even when he’s playing a cold-blooded CIA assassin (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, or his Oscar-winning role in Syriana) or the single worst on-screen depiction of the god damn Batman (Batman and Robin). So it’s a little interesting to see him play Matt King, a clueless middle-aged man going through both a legal and personal crisis simultaneously. His family has a large tract of land in Hawaii that will cease to be theirs in seven years. They need to vote to what to do with it and the various cousins of the family are all in disagreement over what to do with that. Amidst all this, Matt’s wife gets in an accident that renders her comatose. Due to the conditions of her Do Not Resuscitate order, she will soon be removed from life support. Matt has to get the family together to say goodbye. His older daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) is estranged from her mother and is reluctant to come home. His younger daughter Scotty (Amara Miller) has been having behavioral problems at school since her mother’s accident. Plus if you’ve seen the trailers you know there’s one other complication in Matt’s already-troubled situation. (However, I don’t feel it’s information that should be in the trailers and thusly I won’t be talking about it here.)

Clooney is great in this film (though I thought he was better in The Ides of March earlier this year). He seems oddly vulnerable, which is understanding for his character but not a state of being that one would normally associate with Clooney (though he showed shades of it in Up in the Air). Woodley is also great as Alex, venting all the frustration and anger that Matt is keeping inside. Good performances also come from Robert Forster, Nick Krause, Beau Bridges, Judy Greer, and most surprisingly Matthew Lillard. The script by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (the latter best known as the Dean on Community) focuses on quiet character moments, to the movie’s strength. Director Alexander Payne has come to excel at low-key movies about people in personal crisis, like Sideways and About Schmitt. Yet again, he’s made one of the best movies of the year.

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