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  • Writer's pictureSteve

The Descendants (2011)

Another swing at Oscar glory for Clooney and Alexander Payne alike.

Set in the Hawaiian Islands, this is the story of one man trying to reconnect with his family when his wife falls into a coma after a boating accident. Sounds like Oscar gold, and probably will be. Ingratiating himself year after year to the Academy will no doubt do Clooney more good than harm over a protracted period of time and if you can work with superlative, respected heavyweights in your field, then why not. Most actors would saw off one of their own arms to be where Clooney has been sitting for the past decade or so.

What is resounding in most, if not all of Clooney's performances, is the attention he gives to his characters. Almost all of them are identifiable to his audience. Here we have a need to make the lead independently wealthy, a pre-requisite for worry-free island hopping for him, his daughters and other hangers on. In order for us to believe the façade, it still has to ring mostly true. But to make him wealthy could alienate most of Clooney's fawning viewers, unable to relate to his character. Clooney does not allow this to happen, ever. So his fortune is hereditary, most of it not even being his, but yet still responsible enough a trustee to look after it for all of the cousins that rely on his final decision about who gets what and when.

Clooney seems to enjoy the put-upon, flawed good guy roles with just a bit of an edge to them. And this is what you get here. He is not renowned for playing roles that tarnish his Hollywood image and even when pressed, he would rather bring comedy to a role that is less than savoury. This isn't really an issue here, as this is writing on a made-to-measure scale by Payne with direction to boot, which means long, deliberate pauses on an aging face that tells of his torment all by itself, such is Clooney's talent for the wordless, withered and worn-out stare.

That is not to say that the film is without its share of light-hearted moments, but these are admittedly and expectedly rare. Running down the street in flip flops, down the hill and around a bend when it would have been much easier and quicker to take a short cut across the grass, says alot about the attention to detail that Payne implies and Clooney then embellishes. It is here that even the merest hint of suave, sophisticated Danny Ocean disappears entirely, left with nothing more than a middle-aged father in a hurry but wearing, well, flip-flops.

It is a story as much about family as it is about loss, as it is about revenge and regret. The film is easy on the eye with beautiful Hawaii as a set, yet what comes out at the other end of these things always remains the same. A character that has survived whatever obstacles and problems thrown at them, coming out of it if not happier, then certainly better for the experience. Great supporting performances, especially from Shailene Woodley and a woefully underused Beau Bridges provide great ammunition for Clooney's fraying Matt King.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film and would challenge anyone to find too much fault in its execution, much like Up In The Air. This is, however, more about Clooney than Payne, I feel, which given both the writing and direction came from Payne, may not have been the plan. Such is Clooney's presence on screen, it is hard not to linger on him maybe a little too long for various reasons depending on why you bought your ticket. But buy a ticket you should. I have seen better films this year, but this is up there with the very best of the also rans, which is where I would honestly expect to find it when the Oscars get handed out next month. And hell, if either Clooney or Payne win, I won't be too disappointed.

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