Saturday, February 4, 2012

‘The Descendants’

PRELUDE: All eyes were on George Clooney this year as a possible Oscar® contender for two films; The Descendants and The Ides Of March. He was lucky in both cases as the Academy smiled upon the  world-popular actor/writer/producer. For his political film The Ides of March, he picked up an Oscar® nomination for Writing an Adapted Screenplay along with buddies Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon. Clooney scored the big prize with a nomination for Best Picture for The Descendants. Winning Best Picture is considered the greatest prize in Hollywood. For directing the film, Alexander Payne was honored with a Best Director nom. For his acting in the Hawaii-set drama, Clooney was singled out as Best Actor and took home a well-deserved nomination. 
REVIEW: George Clooney is right in the middle of a family disagreement in Fox Searchlight’s The Descendants on what to do with inherited land that has been in the family for generations. It just happens to be the most beautiful mountain and coastal land still vacant in Hawaii.

Clooney is the executor of the estate and is responsible for handling all the details of succession amongst the squabbling cousins and uncles. The land Is a prime target of developers who want to turn the pristine land into hotels, condos, and golf courses, thus destroying its natural beauty and remoteness. Some of the relatives want to sell and reap millions. Clooney’s character is not so sure about what to do for his family and the people of Hawaii. 

The family is at a crossroads, and so is Clooney’s home life. His wife gets involved in a boating accident and is in a coma. His rebellious 17 year-old daughter Alexandra (the terrific young Shailene Woodley) is a handful and hides a hatred of her mother. Precocious little sister Scottie (Amara Miller) doesn’t quite know what’s going on but survives through her plucky and happy exterior. The two girls are expressive young actresses and manage to convey their feelings and fears with confidence. When Alexandra reveals to her dad that her mother was having a love affair on the side with a local realtor, Clooney’s world is shattered because he thought he had a good marriage. 

Clooney, of course, is one of our better actors and can convey anger, fear, unhappiness, and revenge with equal amounts of talent. He does just that when he tries to figure out why his wife betrayed him. He struggles with what is to become of his family and what to do about dispersing the treasured land. Clooney is captivating in whatever he does, and he appeals to both men and women. 
He embarks on a mission to find the man is wife betrayed him with and manages to find him renting a cottage on the beach with is own family. Handsome Matthew Lillard plays the dastardly home-wrecker and Judy Greer is his sweet and unsuspecting wife. Lillard is confronted, giving Clooney a reason to sort things out in his mind. Lillard is perfect in his part and conveys just enough surprise, embarrassment, and fear that he will be exposed to his family. It’s his best acting job in years. 

The drama is engaging and has many comic moments to relieve the sadness of the broken marriage and the wife’s illness. Young Sid ( Nick Krause) is Alexandra’s laid-back boyfriend is a marvel and is quite amusing in his outlook as a sort of tag-along member of the family.

Shot in Hawaii and capturing all the beauty and breathtaking scenery ever imagined, the film is almost a travelogue and certainly a bouquet to Hawaii itself. The supporting cast has been chosen with care and includes Beau Bridges as a greedy cousin, Robert Forster as the cantankerous father of Clooney’s wife, and Nick Krause as the funny teen-ager Sid. 

Adult dramas are few these days, and this one is sprinkled with some comedy to alleviate the heaviness of the dilemmas involved. The gorgeous views of Hawaii by cinematographer Phedon Papamichael are worth the price of a ticket on their own. Directed by Alexander Payne. Fox Searchlight.

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