Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Descendants (2011)

Directed by: Alexander Payne
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause

Matt King (Clooney) is a lawyer and a rich land baron, born and raised on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu.  He and his family are direct descendants of King Kamehameha. Matt is a workaholic, always away on business. He is emotionally and physically disconnected from the day-to-day lives of his wife and two daughters, 17 year old Alexandre (Woodley) and 10 year old Scottie (Miller.)  Following a tragic boating accident, Matt's wife is in the hospital, and on life support.  Matt is left to deal with his daughters and begins to re-build his bond with the two of them. It is during this period that Matt uncovers a dark secret about his wife and what his role was in the way things were going in their lives prior to her accident.

On top of dealing with the issues of his dying wife and estranged daughters, Matt is also the trustee to his family's land that is worth millions. One crucial sub-plot of the narrative is that the decision to sell the land rests solely on Matt. Selling the land it will make him and the rest of his family all multimillionaires, but he is conflicted about what the right thing to do is. The land is picturesque, "unspoiled" land that has been in his family for centuries.  The key scene plays out when Matt and his daughters travel to the Island of Kauai (where the family land happens to be) to confront someone who is involved with his wife. It is in this chapter of the narrative where Matt has a moment of clarity, and the bond with his daughters begins to really rebuild. It is also on this trip to Kauai where Matt realizes what he needs to do with the family owned land.

Director Alexander Payne is known for making films with the same plot-line of a man reaching a self-actualization phase in his life, as he did with films like About Schmidt (2002) and Sideways (2004.) Just like the lead characters in those films, the lead in this film (Matt) has had an life altering event take place in his life, and encounters a lot of personal discovery along the way.

Clooney sheds his usual "Sexiest Man Alive" persona and brings to life the character of a greying, and hunched over 50 year old workaholic who is a failure at being a father and a husband. Both Woodley and Miller prove they are very capable of the adult nature of their dramatic performances. This film is sure to stimulate audiences both emotionally and intellectually. It will be a surprise if it doesn't do well on Oscar Night.

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