The Descendants was no doubt Oscar bound at its inception – directed and written by Alexander Payne (of Election, Sideways and About Schmidt fame) and starring one of The Oscars current favourites, George Clooney. With five nominations, the only question now is whether it’ll win.
Matthew King’s (Clooney) wife has been involved in a major accident and is on a life support machine. He is a lawyer as well as the executor of his extended family’s massive estate, even though he’s completely out of touch with his immediate family. The plot centres around Clooney coming to terms with, taking control of and understanding more about his fractured family, whilst also learning about his wife’s infidelity.
Clooney’s character is initially completely unaware of her affair due to the fact he’s so focussed on his work rather than living life to the full – unlike his wife. The rest of the film sees King dealing with the decisions he has to make over whether to switch his wife’s life support machine off, as well as dealing with his conscience over signing over the family inheritance to make a huge profit. If that weren’t enough he has to learn about his growing children and find the man his wife had an affair with. In other words King has a lot on his plate!
Set in Hawaii, Payne makes full use of panoramic and sweeping vistas to capture the natural beauty of the region. The film is bittersweet, comical and serious in equal measure, and extremely well scripted, as you’d expect from Alenander Payne. Clooney delivers again and gives us a very polished performance as a father who is completely out of touch with his family. The supporting cast are all exceptional in their roles, but for me the standout is King’s troubled daughter Alexandra, played by Shailene Woodley. Her performance is extremely emotional and believable (it reminded me of when we first saw Juliette Lewis in Cape Fear) and I expect we will be seeing a lot more of her! The other obstreperous daughter, Scottie (played by Amara Miller), reminded me of when we first saw Christina Ricci in Mermaids.
The only problem I had with the film was the switching from serious issues to comic scenes, which was often confusing. One minute we are dealing with a sensitive issue and the next Clooney is running around like Norman Wisdom – although humorous I found it to be a little inconsistent and sometime undermined the power of the scene being built up.
However that is a minor gripe as the rest of the film is well crafted. The final ten minutes of the film are very touching and charming, with a soundtrack Jack Johnson would be proud of. The message of the film is clear – life is the same no matter where you are, so make time for your family and friends.
Overall Verdict: The film has Oscars written all over it – excellent cast, script, quality actors and bereavement (a true Oscar favourite)! This is George Clooney’s film and yes he is a screen icon, but for me there is only one matinee idol this year and that is Jean Dujardin in The Artist.
Reviewer: Stephen Sclater