The Watchers

The Watchers

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Review: The Descendants (UK cert 15)

George Clooney may need to do some rearranging of his awards to fit in another small gold naked guy, because his performance in The Descendants will almost certainly net him the Best Actor Academy Award in February.

Clooney plays Matt King, a land developer and disengaged father of two who has to step up to assume parental responsibility when a tragic boating accident leaves his wife Elizabeth in a coma. Unable to deal with his daughters, wayward Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and precocious Scottie (Amara Miller), he’s also in the final stages of overseeing a land sale which will bring his family a lot of money. All these things come together when Alexandra drops a bombshell; Elizabeth was having an affair…

If this synopsis makes the film sound relentlessly miserable, it isn’t. As with Alexander Payne’s other movies (Election, Inside Out and Sideways) there’s a great deal of humour- both intentional and otherwise- to be found. It strikes a good balance between comedy and drama, being funny and moving often within the same scene.

It’s an incredibly well-acted film, led by a strong performance by Clooney. He’s utterly believable as a frustrated father and a confused husband, openly admitting he’s no good with his own kids and having to come to terms with his own failings that made his wife stray. Because the character has so much to deal with, so does Clooney- he is barely off-screen for the entire duration of the film. And whilst certain aspects of the role might not exactly stretch him as an actor, he is never less than superb.

The family dynamic created by Clooney and the actresses who play his daughters is astounding. It feels utterly authentic. Amara Miller plays Scottie just right; it would be very easy for her to be twee or annoying but there’s a beautifully twisted edge to the character which stops her being too saccharine. Shailene Woodley, in her first major film role, is a revelation; hard-edged, spiky and rebellious to start with, but the edges soften as the film progresses. It’s a remarkable performance by Woodley, inexplicably missing from the Oscar’s Best Supporting Actress category this year.

That’s not to say that the other performances are anything less than excellent, either. Also worth noting are Robert Forster (as Elizabeth’s father Scott), Beau Bridges (as Matt’s cousin Hugh) and Judy Greer, in a small but very important role. Also worth watching is Nick Krause, who plays Alexandra’s friend Sid: often the comic relief, but a rounded character in his own right

Payne’s direction is slick and Hawaii has rarely looked more beautiful on camera. The script is well-rounded and well-paced with some very funny moments. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable comedy-drama and I’m glad it’s getting so much recognition during this awards season

Rating: 4 out of 5


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