When a film, especially a low key drama, is hyped up then there can be a certain level of disappointment in some quarters. Thankfully, Alexander Payne's first feature since the superb Sideways several years ago is a wonderfully acted, tightly scripted family drama that never attempts to be overly earnest and has a strong heart beating at its core. George Clooney further cements his status as the most credible movie star on the planet.
The film follows Clooney's character, Matt King, as he deals with the aftermath of a tragic accident that left his wife in a coma that she may never awake from. Matt must attempt to raise his two daughters while he deals with some heartbreaking revelations involving his wife, and anchor one of the biggest property deals in the history of Hawaii. He's having a tough few weeks is Matt...
Off the bat, The Descendants doesn't feel emotionally dense at all - given the subject matter - and opens with Clooney's character seemingly over the shock of what has happened to his family. He's narration reveals that he's now firmly in pragmatic mode and simply trying to raise his two very different girls, while dealing with extended family and an imminent multi-million dollar business deal. Payne takes his movie from a place that could've easily went down a sombre, more ponderous route and instead gives us something reflective but remarkably fun in parts. He can also direct the hell out of actors, and it's no fluke that many have given their still-to-be-rivalled career bests in his work.
Clooney plays this perfectly; the tone actually veers into comic from time-to-time as it can do in life during tragic, or plate shifting situations, and that kind of organic performance is very difficult to achieve - he is predictably superb. But this isn't his best performance - Up in the Air still holds that particular title. What he has done is age with remarkable grace on screen, and continue to challenge himself to work with exciting, often unconventional filmmakers. The two actresses playing his daughters - Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller - also do very strong work.
This is at its centre simply a very fine drama, that deals with loss and acceptance in non-condescending, genuinely enlightening manner.
Story by Mike Sheridan | 11:59 | Monday 21st May 2012 | DVD review
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