The Descendants (Rated R)
- Starring George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller
- Directed by Alexander Payne
- Plot: A land baron on Hawaii must learn to connect with his daughters after his wife is injured in a boating accident.
George Clooney has had a impressive career – both on screen and behind the camera. In Alexander Payne’s The Descendants though, it could easily be argued he has hit the high point.
Clooney plays Matt King, a real-estate mogul and land owner in Hawaii who is responsible for one of the largest areas of undeveloped land left on the islands. His family, on his mother’s side, are descended from Hawaiian royalty, and the tract of land has been in their family for generations. While he is in the midst of brokering a deal to sell the land to a developer, his wife Elizabeth is injured in a boating accident. Always something of an absentee husband and father, Matt suddenly finds himself responsible for his two daughters, seventeen-year-old Alexandria who has been in trouble for drinking and drugs and ten-year-old Scottie who has a bit of a potty mouth.
On top of all of this, Matt finds out from Alexandria that Elizabeth had been cheating on her at the time of the accident. This sends Matt on a quest to find out who his wife had been having an affair with which ultimately turns into a journey of self-discovery.
The Descendants is a wonderful movie, both hilariously funny and incredibly touching. As I said previously, Clooney gives one of the best performances of his career. Giving his most nuanced and “adult” performance, this is Clooney at the height of his craft. We still see the Clooney star, but it is far overshadowed by Clooney the actor as he lets himself get become a character far different than the typical Clooney leading man.
As impressive as Clooney is though, he is almost completely outshown by the amazingly talented Shailene Woodley. As his daughter Alexandria, it would have been easy for this character to come off as a one note character, but Woodley’s performance has such depth and emotion that she literally becomes the one you can’t take your eyes off in every seen she’s in. Woodley has pretty much only done television thus far, but this girl is going to be a star.
Young Amara Miller, in her first role, also shows great potential for a future career. Director Alexander Payne gets fantastic performances from all of his actors though. Beau Bridges, Judy Greer, Nick Krause, and Matthew Lillard are all wonderful and ideally cast. Robert Forster stands out also as Elizabeth’s gruff father whose grief is shown most harshly in anger at his son-in-law. While there is no buzz around him, Forster easily deserves recognition as a supporting actor for the performance.
The Descendants has been making the rounds on the awards circuit with recognitino to the film, Clooney, Woodley, and Payne. I’m not sure if it’s the best movie of the year; but it is definitely one of the better films to come out this year, and one I can wholeheartedly recommend.
The Descendants is not currently playing in the Ames area, but it is available in Des Moines at the Fleur Cinema & Cafe and Jordan Creek Century 20. Click the links for showtimes.