‘The Descendants’ Ascend

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

The beautiful shores of Hawaii, a touching story about family and that silver-haired fox George Clooney: what more could one ask for in a movie?

Well, thankfully, all three of the above components are a staple in this year’s hit “The Descendents,” directed by Alexander Payne and released in limited theaters this past Friday.

Although the movie is entertaining and moving, the reason for its success is George Clooney. His acting carries the movie, which is not entirely a bad thing because the focus is on his character throughout the film.

Matt King (Clooney) is a profitable lawyer, as well as a descendant of one the richest families in Hawaii, who must decide whether or not to sell a large amount of land on the island Kauai to a resort company.

If this is not already stressful enough, he finds out his dying wife, who will be taken off life support because of her permanent comatose state, was cheating on him with a local realtor.

King, with his two rebellious daughters Alexandra and Scottie (played by Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller respectively) as well as almost no outside support from family members and friends, sets out to find the man whom his wife was seeing. A journey of growth, love and most importantly understanding, “The Descendants” is able to transcend its unfortunate premise and present a well-rounded film that can be enjoyed by a wide variety of audiences.

Obviously, the best part of this film, and in my opinion the backbone of its success, is George Clooney.  His past few films, like  have explored darker as well as complex sides of Clooney, often with a journey to realization that, while painful, reveals a stronger protagonist in the end.

This is the same formula in “The Descendants.” Yet, despite the somewhat lack of originality in the plot, Clooney masters it beautifully. Dressed down in Hawaiian print and ill-fitting khakis, the audience completely forgets they are watching one of the most glamorous Hollywood actors of today’s generation, and instead lose themselves in Clooney’s misfortune.

Clooney depicts Matt King as a somewhat high-strung and quiet man who is at a complete loss when dealing with his growing daughters. Although most of the relationships in his life have failed, it is evident that he still cares and wants to succeed with the people in his life, especially his daughters.

Clooney’s acting is solid, yet his success stands out in solitary moments when he deals with the emotions thrust upon him from the unfortunate circumstances he finds himself in. This is especially apparent in the scenes he spends talking with his hospitalized wife. The moment in which he knows he must say good-bye is extremely heartfelt and moving; the audience gets lost in the moment of a loving husband kissing his wife for the very last time.

Similar to “Up In the Air,” I whole-heartedly believe that Clooney will receive Oscar attention for his performance. He explores the depths of an ailing man to the level of truth, without over-articulating any grief that would make the performance hokey. He is truly my favorite part of this film.

That being said, without Clooney, I do not think the movie could stand on its own. This factor could be overlooked because the story is about King’s trials and tribulations, so the movie is centered on his journey; yet, I wanted something more from the rest of the performances that I felt were not nearly as strong as Clooney’s. Everyone did a passable job, but Clooney delivers such a heartfelt performance that everyone else pales in comparison.

Besides the acting, the other wonderful aspect of this film is the cinematography. This is especially apparent in the close-ups on each of the characters’ faces as they receive the news of King’s wife’s condition.

After King informs Alexandra while she is swimming about her mom’s ill condition, the camera follows her underwater while she hysterically screams and takes out her emotion into the noiseless abyss. The contrast between visual frenzy and silent audio is strangely beautiful.

Another positive cinematic instance is shown when King tells his wife’s father Scott Thorson (Robert Forster) about her condition. The latter turns his back to the group, and the camera focuses on his face as he slowly works out his feelings about his daughter’s deteriorating condition.  Yet, while he is on focus, the audience can still see the faces of King and his daughter in the background, out of focus yet still present. Once again, the contrast is beautiful as the camera is used as a subtle tool to divide the focused actor emotionally from the rest of the cast.

All in all, I enjoyed this film, not to the extent of telling everyone I know about it, but as a quiet enjoyment that satisfied a cinematic thirst.

If I do not remember anything else from it, I will certainly remember Clooney’s beautiful acting, a performance that will surely keep him in the minds of the public for a very long time.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5