The Descendents Review- Clooney Will Make You Cry

by on August 28th, 2010
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There is a scene early in “The Descendents” where George Clooney reacts to the news that his wife is going to die. We hear the voice of the doctor off-screen explain that she will not wake from a coma as the camera stays on Clooney’s face. While he processes the awful reality, it is near impossible not to feel the blow with him. Watching “The Descendents” is an emotionally immersive experience that is not to be missed.

Clooney is Matt King, a Hawaiian attorney who lives on the island of Oahu with his fractured family. Matt is the direct descendant of a Hawaiian princess and, because of this lineage, is the trustee of a huge parcel of land on Kauai that is up for sale to developers. He alone must decide what is to happen to the 25,000 acres of land and it is a heavy burden. But that doesn’t compare to the painful matters that haunt his family.

After a serious boating accident Matt’s wife lies in a hospital bed, slowly dying. Matt is struggling with this while dealing the effects this has on his two daughters; 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and 17-year-old troubled teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley). Now that his world has been ripped apart, Matt must take emotional stock and realizes that his family is- and has been- broken. Alexandra has been away to a private boarding school because of drug abuse while Scottie is your average child on the cusp of puberty and confusing and difficult because of it. Both are strangers to Matt. When he discovers that his wife was having an affair, Matt must wrestle with another layer of pain as he losses someone he had already lost.

This is director Alexander Payne’s first film since 2004’s stellar “Sideways”. With “The Descendents” Payne has made an entire movie about reaction: not just Clooney’s pivotal one when he first hears his wife’s diagnosis or how he deals with the adultery but all of the major character’s reactions to the situation are focused on. The kid’s responses are the most gut wrenching while the wife’s father, Grandpa Scott (Robert Forster) lashes out to the revelation. Payne has done this before: “Sideways” best scene involves Paul Giamatti listening to Virginia Madsen wax poetic about the life inside a bottle of wine. You can see him fall in love with her. Better yet, you can feel it.

Payne has populated his movie with many unknown actors that brings a unique quality to the film. While some of the performances border on too amateur, the overall effect works, making his movie world seem authentic. Everything- the performances, the wonderful Hawaiian music, the cozy cinematographer- works together to make the movie something you live through along with the characters.

By losing his wife, he regains his relationships with his daughters. There is a sense of redemption, of second chances, that makes the heavy subject matter bearable and, ultimately, rewarding. Clooney should receive accolades for his most intimate performance and Woodley as his eldest daughter is a revelation, giving a most natural and sincere performance.

While the film deals with the past and where you come from it ends with the idea of what you make for the future. By dealing with tragedy, Matt King is able to see the cracks in his life and make an effort to fix them. We should all be so lucky.


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