Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Opens locally Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011
Run Time: 1 hour 55 minutes, Rated R
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard
Co-Written & Directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt, Election)
Matt King (Clooney) is on an island, in every imaginable meaning of the word. He is a rich land-baron living in Hawaii, which we all know is paradise. He loves his wife and his children. On paper, his life should be great.
But life isn't lived on paper, and on a day like any other, tragedy strikes. Matt's wife is thrown from a motor boat, and is left in a coma. He is thrust into the role of single parent to his two daughters, one a rebellious college-age student (Woodley) and the other in grade school (Miller,) and he has no idea how to handle them.
Add to this, that due to some new state laws, he is set to lose 22,000 acres of land that belongs only to him. This land was past down for generations in his family, and he is faced with a tough decision: Do I sell this land before the laws inact, making my family extremely rich? In doing so though, he'd be giving up the last virgin Hawaiian real estate on the island, a move that would make him hated with other Hawaiian locals. He could hang on to it, because after all, its a part of him and his family legacy.
"The Descendants" is a sometimes funny, sometimes heart-breaking story of holding on and letting go. It also reveals a lot of truths about family. Most interesting of all, nothing is what it seems...Hawaii for example, is not all paradise and hula skirts, they have real problems too. When Matt finds out some troubling news about his comatose wife and some choices she had made prior to the accident, his marriage is no longer what it seems.
Matt is alone, as we all are, but perception is a bitch. When his wife's condition worsens, he is confronted with some incredibly tough decisions that he alone has to make. To sell or to keep his inheritance is also Matt's choice alone. The decision deals with much more than land, it brings to question the importance of family, legacy, and history, versus money, wealth, and stature.
George Clooney shines as a man faced with these tough decisions, seemingly on the verge of breaking down at any minute. He is dazed and confused as to where his life has led, and he occupies his time with some petty actions just to keep him from facing his true feelings. By the end of the film, Clooney has a scene where he bares his soul, and it's the thing Oscar nominations are made for.
There are some good performances from the supporting players, most notably Shailene Woodley and child actor Amara Miller. Alexander Payne makes this film feel authentically Hawaiian, with numerous shots of the beautiful scenery and island music. It messes with our perception of paradise, as these scenes are often interjected between scenes of true remorse and anger from our central characters.
Something about the film left me disconnected ever so slightly, but all in all "The Descendants" really stands out as a movie about isolation, and what it means to be family.
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