Review: The Descendants

By Kevin Clare ‘Claratsi’

Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller

Director: Alexander Payne

Runtime: 115 minutes

Lost in Paradise

Matt King’s (George Clooney) opening narrative unapologetically expresses the true feelings of a man disenchanted with his lot…and why wouldn’t he be?

Clooney’s Hawaiian property kahuna’s life is paradise, until his wife is gravely injured in a water ski accident.

With his wife on life support, the disconnected dad must now resume fatherly duties, too long neglected during his voluntary hiatus as the back up parent.

This is all whilst overseeing the vitally important sale of his family’s sizable plot of prime Hawaii real estate bequeathed down through generations from their ancestors.

Further shattering revelations tip Matt near to the edge.

Matt’s seemingly bigger challenge is to now become dad to two already troubled daughters, near strangers to a man who must now look for an ally in older daughter Alexandra, in order to assist in the handling of the younger feral sibling, Scottie.

Clooney’s flawless performance (yes, flawless) perfectly matches the expectation of how a guy with such human disconnect would deal with tragic circumstances.

Outpourings of over-emotion are rare and grief is honest. No over-hammed gushing here, just masterful, believable acting, encompassing all the sentiments of a man just “trying to keep his head above water”.

The measured, perfect control when Matt is given the gloomy prognosis of his wife’s condition, is one of the many definitive and natural emotional episodes, and is possibly the pinnacle of Clooney’s varied career so far.

Casting is superb with Clooney subtle and authentic with an economy of effort that becomes totally convincing as a portrayal of a man near breaking, but never quite, always managing to somehow do the right thing.

Shailene Woodley as Alexandra gives an ever evolving performance as the older daughter, harbouring a devastating secret, maturing over the course of events from the resentful, youth in revolt, into an adult who becomes the principal shoulder for her wavering dad.

Robert Forster cameos as the bruising father in law, who as an opposite to Matt’s emotional restraint blames Clooney and his brood for his daughters demise, seeing only with a rose tinting view, oblivious to her own misdemeanours.

A heart rending final display reveals the inner anguish of a father that perfectly matches the intent throughout proceedings of natural, believable expressions of grief.

Beau Bridges is the leading King clan member, delicately but selfishly trying to keep Matt on the right course into deciding to sell the family land, disingenuously steering Matt from his growing inner doubts of his ancestral legacy and duty as protector of their last piece of Hawaii.

When watching Matt’s bittersweet tale come to a heart-warming, everyday end, you can’t help but feel joy for the man who has lost much but gained more.

The Descendants brilliantly demonstrates how emotional approaches differ, with accurate and sympathetic direction from Payne, underpinned by an authentic, perfect and utterly convincing central performance by Clooney as the beleaguered family man.

He defiantly behaves with the greatest dignity and restraint whilst others deflect and blame. How many could behave in such a way when being given a beating down by the misfortunes of life?


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