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Star - George Clooney
Genre - Drama/Comedy
Certificate - R18
Run Time - 115 minutes
Country - USA
Blockbuster Rental- £0.99p per night
Awards - 1 Oscar from 5 nominations.
Amazon - £6.23 DVD (£6.95 Blue Ray)
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I like George Clooney, an old style movie star and likeable guy. Cinema used to be full of these icons and the audience in awe at their looks and status, the face, not the acting, often carrying the role. Now it's all goatee boards, grungy casual fashion and babies names from the Argos catalogue to placate multiplex audiences. We no longer look up to our movie stars and so they have to come down to our level to earn our dollar. Clooney just reminds us of how the movies used to be when you watch his movies, an under rated actor and charismatic star. The sizzling sexual chemistry between him and Jennifer Lopez in the classy crime noir movie Out of Sight (1997) has not been repeated in cinema since for me, that once common movie magic disappearing fast.
The Descendants (based on the book of the same name) is another winner for Clooney, a film that featured on all of the top twenty broadsheet critics top tens in America in 2011. That is a rare occurrence and the film clearly not just another over hyped Oscar movie. Its from director Alex Payne, he of Sideways (2007), About Schmidt (2004) and Election ( 2009), a failed actor turned cool director that only makes a film when he thinks it will work. Hangover 4 is not his thing, just 13 movies in 28 years, something to be respected in a rather tired Hollywood these days.
= = = Cast = = =
* George Clooney as Matthew "Matt" King
* Shailene Woodley as Alexandra "Alex" King
* Beau Bridges as Cousin Hugh
* Judy Greer as Julie Speer
* Nick Krause as Sid
* Amara Miller as Scottie King
* Matthew Lillard as Brian Speer
* Robert Forster as Scott Thorson
* Patricia Hastie as Elizabeth King
* Mary Birdsong as Kai Mitchell
* Rob Huebel as Mark Mitchell
* Milt Kogan as Dr. Johnston
* Laird Hamilton as Troy Cook
* Michael Ontkean as Cousin Milo
* Matt Corboy as Cousin Ralph
* Celia Kenney as Reina
= = = The Plot = = =
Consciences Honolulu lawyer Matt King (George Clooney) and his extended family live across the sprawling Hawaiian island chain, he and his cousins the rightful inheritors to some stunning land on the archipelago of Kauai, left by his Great Great Grandfather King Kamehameha, the first sovereign of the unified Hawaiian Islands in 1810. Under the 'rule against perpetuities' the trust he is the appointed head of expires in seven years time, and so the land and its worth no longer his to distribute, which is considerable, the cash strapped cousins wanting him to sell early as one or two are broke after blowing their previous trust money and not too bothered how sacred the land will look with a huge hotel complex on it. Matt has been frugal all his life and lived off his lawyer earnings but will go along with the family vote in six days time to decide which consortium to sell to, two huge offers already on the table, one from a local millionaire and one from the Japanese, the local man favored and sure to win the bid.
"I don't want my daughters growing up entitled and spoiled. And I agree with my father; you give your children enough money to do something but not enough to do nothing'.
But today Matt's life has been complicated when his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) suffers serious head trauma in a speedboat accident and now in a coma, the distress dragging up recent family and marital woes for Matt, his young 18-year-old daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) and 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) beginning to go off the rails because of. The plan now is to gather the girls together at home and for Alex to look after young Scottie while dad deals with mom in hospital, a chance to reconnect with his kids. But the rekindling relationship with Alex reveals exactly why mom and her older daughter have not been talking since Christmas, mum having a big secret, one dad is not going to like. With the big family vote nearly upon Matt he now has this revelation playing on his mind as he ponders his next move.
To resolve his anxieties over Alex's revelation the family take a trip, the big reveal likely to change his feelings towards his wife, now firmly on her death bed, the viewer learning that their marriage was already under strain before the accident, the reason why he chooses to track down the person responsible for Alex's shocking announcement, which means a trip to Kauai with the kids, which means the morality of that journey may effect his decision on who to sell the land to, upsetting the descendents some more.
= = = Results = = =
I liked this, director Alex Payne's clever and interesting style of putting the everyday lives and tribulations of average Americans into setting and situations we are not familiar with when we think of Hollywood movies making this rather fun. How many American dramas have you seen based in Hawaii? Yes, you get dumb 'stoner' spring break comedies set there but not serious dramas, and Payne even gets away with putting Clooney in loud Hawaiian shirt, the main cliché that stops serious films being based in Hawaii so no to bring back memories of Hawaii Five O, I presume.
It's not too long and shows elegant restraint with its moral twists and tear jerking moments, only endearing you some more. Usually this type of Oscar mid-budget drama is overrated but the critics united for once because it is so unexpectedly different and you can't help but like the way it tries hard to be something original and emotionally intelligent. Sometimes these films become a bit too worthy and rather irritating, Juno to name but one.
Clooney is excellent in the lead and was nominated for Best Actor in the Oscars and able to be not too suave and sexy this time around and puts across well that man alone role men sometimes have to deal with when their family routine is upset, men not designed to be single parents the gauche undertone here. The supporting cast is good and the Hawaiian settings made nondescript as they are familiar through Payne's camera, the glamour of the beaches and big wave surfers lost in the commercial sprawl of Honolulu's skyscrapers that burn down magnified heat on the hustling wage slaves in the canyons below, the reality of living by the beach with a mortgage to pay.
For its $20 million budget it did a healthy $177 million back for this type of niche movie cinema audiences tend to shy away from, the Oscar nomination bounce and the bankable Clooney the reason for that. As much as we think Clooney is the big shot movie star it's surprising just how many of these movies he does. His fans will love this and well worth you renting the spy thriller 'The American', if you missed him in that, two classy Clooney movies that should be on your rental list. If I could match this style of filmmaking to another film you may have seen I would say Dan in Real Life (2010) and Little Miss Sunshine (2005), warm smart comedies with emotion and meaning. I was a little surprised at the over zealous 18R rating here as there is nothing remotely risky about this movie and can only believe it's an adult language and sexual references issue with the sensors. You can always read the reasons why a film gets certain ratings on the Imdb.com website link. On the whole though a great film for mum and dad, couples or singles....that won't patronize and the hype perfectly acceptable this time around.
= = = = RATINGS = = = =
Imdb.com - 7.4 /10.0 (136,417votes)
Metacrtic.com - 84% critic's approval
Rottentomatos.com - 89% critic's approval
= = = Special Features = = =
- Everybody Loves George -
Short piece by cast & crew on what it's like to work with Goerge Clooney, which they seem to enjoy!
- Working with Alex -
The cast & crew do the same for director Alex Payne!
= = = = Critics = = = =
Daily Telegraph -' As is the way with Payne's films, we go away feeling that every man is an island - and it's only a matter of time before each of us finds ourselves deserted'.
Sight & Sound -'Payne, whose early features were set in his native Omaha, has always shown an acute if unconventional sense of place'.
The Patriot Leger -'People looking for a good lei would be wise to say aloha to 'The Descendants,' Alexander Payne's Hawaiian-set luau in which laughter and tears combine for a cinematic feast'
Seattle Mercury -' Like "Sideways" and "About Schmidt," "The Descendants" lets Alexander Payne show us the Other America and the Other Americans - little lives caught up in small but epic problems far away from the La La Land of Hollywood hype, sex and violence.
Little White Lies -'Worth the wait. Don't stay away for so long next time though, Alex.'.
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Having recently joined Blockbusters a few films are on their way for review!
I picked this up because it looked like a good film from the blurb on the back of the DVD, I remember hearing the name when it came out on screen but hadn't heard that much about it. On the cover it said it had won some awards so that seemed a good start and that it was a comedy drama.
The film is approx 1hr 15mins which is relatively short these days for a drama film. However it was the perfect length, there is no point in putting more in just to make the story drag out more. It didn't need it.
The drama unfolds as George Cloony playing Matt King the father of two daughters discovers his wife was in a boating accident. He hasn't exactly been the best husband or dad which he himself admits, he has to bring now help his two daughters through this time. We see Scottie King first the younger daughter played by Amara Miller, as a difficult girl struggling with her emotions, Miller plays Scottie really well and is totally believable as is the older daughter, Alexander King played by Shaileen Wooley who is found drunk at boarding school and extremely rude. As the story unfolds Alex becomes a mature and understanding teenager who still struggling with emotions is a great help to her Dad, Matt King.
Matt discovers something about his wife (I don't like to spoil all the surprises in a review!) which sets them all off on a trail across the beautiful islands of Hawii. I like the way the film doesn't portray Hawii as all wonderful and stress free. The film also plays out the story of the family of descendents, all cousins, trying to sell land that is in a trust fund they've inherited. I love the way this part of the film is portrayed as it shows the serious issues surrounding selling off land to develop and loosing the natural beauty of many places in the world. It was handled sensitively.
My critisims of the film were that on the blub at the back it did not mention that is was quite sad, I guess I'd sat down for a drama/comedy but not known that it was about the children's mum dying, at times it was hard to switch from the few comedy moments it had to the odd situation of the mum in hospital which perhaps was shown a bit too much in my opinion - especially in a comedy. For anyone that has been in this situation yes life does go on and comedy does come back and in the middle of trauma there can be weird commical moments but not like this. However it's a film and it's a story so I accept that there's some artistic license!
I thought the character of Sid played by Nick Krause was brilliant, I loved the moment when Matt goes to Sid for advice and Sid says that his father died a few months ago - the silence was perfect and just said it all.
All in all I thought it was a good film, not one of the absolute best but a good quality well written film, the stars were definitely the daughters brilliant actresses.
George Clooney is an actor who seems to push the boundaries as he ages. Always known as the slick and suave guy, who plays slick and suave characters, just as you think he is about to be type-cast forever and be stuck with that image for the rest of his career, he stars in something like "The Descendants," a warm and modest family drama in which the most sought-after, confirmed bachelor of Hollywood plays a dedicated father of two, living in Hawaii. The twist is that his wife ends up in a coma after a water-skiing accident. He even admits that he's been the back-up parent in their marriage; anything to do with the kids, his wife handled. But it appears the burden is all suddenly on him now. Not that he minds of course, but he just doesn't have a clue on how to go about this.
His elder daughter Alex(andra) (Shailene Woodley), the rebellious teen who drinks and experiments with drugs, is far from pleased that her loser of a dad is now her full-time guardian. The younger daughter, Scottie (Amara Miller) is a cheerful little firecracker, but not so little that she does not comprehend what is happening with her mother. Being young and full of imaginations, she does do and say some outrageous things (such as putting on her sister's underwear, pretending it's her swim suit) something Matt (Clooney) doesn't quite know how to handle.
The plot thickens however, as Matt discovers his wife's infidelity. This comes as a complete shock to him, even more so when the news is broken to him by Alex. He's devastated for sure, but how can you be angry at a woman in a coma? How do you direct your rage and disappointment towards someone who is hanging on by a thread? The simple answer is, he can't, and like any man on earth, he tries to track down "the other man," but perhaps not for the reason most men would. He has a different agenda in mind, something more thoughtful and moving, a plot strand which I will not spoil. Even in the midst of quite a serious turn of events, Payne makes sure to inject some off-beat humour to keep a healthy tone and pace. It never turns into a serious tragedy, nor does it veer towards hysterical comedy; instead Payne's latest is once again a repeat of what he does best - quirky mix of warm drama and unlikely humour that fits in with the rest of the film. There are no inappropriate, sick jokes and there is certainly no room for any slap-stick comedy. The film speaks from the heart, and the laughs are an added bonus.
Carrying the entire film on his shoulders is the invaluable Clooney, who makes the task look so easy. His performance is never boring, and as he goes through a range of changes, Clooney is so effortlessly convincing and every single aspect of his character is portrayed to perfect precision. It may not be a particularly dramatic or showy role, but playing the complexities of an ordinary husband and father faced with unimaginable challenges, Clooney is a force to be reckoned with, and no doubt a serious contender for this season's major acting awards. He is in almost every single scene, some of them in invasive close-ups that do expose the actor's face in its entirety. But Clooney has the confidence and likable qualities to create a strong, charismatic and unique central hero. His interaction with his on-screen daughters is a heart-warming one, as he develops stronger bonds with his girls.
Just because his wife is in a coma, doesn't mean the world stops spinning. Life goes on, and Matt has not only his daughters to worry about, but also his work. He's a lawyer, taking care of his large family's enormous estate fortune, and an important legal decision needs to be made - the family wants the land sold before a certain deadline, so they can be millions of dollars richer. But Matt's not quite sure, and the pressure from his family starts to build up. Everyone dresses in colourful shirts, shorts and flip-flops; but this doesn't mean they're light-hearted when it comes to family business where an unimaginable amount of money hangs in the balance. Matt is the one in charge, and with it comes an enormous responsibility.
Payne once again uses his reliable ensemble of actors to achieve the maximum effect. He takes it slow, and lets the actors do what they do best. He has a lot of plot strands to juggle, and it's good to see that he's in no hurry. Every rich, character-developing scene is paid careful attention to, resolving all the raised issues with a satisfying set of answers in the end. Often, he manages to incorporate both humour and relatable human, family drama, showing off his usual directorial style with plenty of confidence. He has had successes in the past with films such as "Sideways" and "About Schmidt," about ordinary men going through unusual events, and "The Descendants" does not stray far from what the director is used to, but has original themes of its own. It has a stronger focus on family for sure, as well as that difficult concept of life and death, with forgiveness and redemption attached.
We know that Clooney is a talented actor, but the real surprise of the film comes in the form of the two young actresses who, even with very little screen experience, absolutely nail their supporting roles. Their chemistry with Clooney is more than just convincing, as the three of them settle so well into portraying a dysfunctional family. The news of their mother hits them both hard, and Woodley never overplays the rebellious side of her character, and it is impressive to see a complex role written for a teenager handled so well by the young actress. She has bitter feelings towards everyone given her situation, but is grown-up enough to understand that during the more serious moments in her life, she needs to step up and take over the reins. Payne also uses Miller's Scottie well, placing someone young and clueless in a position having to deal with her mother's impending death. There is a particularly touching scene in which a counsellor explains what is happening to Scottie, and this is a real showcase for Miller, as she slowly moves to genuine tears and sorrow, finally understanding the full extent of her mother's condition.
Set in Hawaii, the audience is very often treated to some remarkable sights of the beautiful island, which is a bonus really, to the gentle, almost therapeutic view of family life painted by the always consistent Payne. If you don't like his slow, patient style, "The Descendants" is not a film that will change your views on this unique director, but for those who have been following his work for some time now, this is another rare treat that you cannot afford to miss.
Ahhhh. A worthy "issues" film starring a major Hollywood star... my cinema radar tells me we must be approaching Oscar season.
But wait, come back... although it might be a little earnest and a little worthy at times, The Descendants is still a good film. Not a great film admittedly and certainly not as good as everyone is trying to make out, but still a perfectly good film.
Starring everyone's favourite liberal heartthrob George Clooney, The Descendants examines the life of Matt King, a man whose life is thrown into turmoil when his wife is involved in a serious boating accident which leaves her in a deep coma in hospital. As Matt starts to face some difficult decisions over his wife's future, he also starts to realise that despite being married to her, he knew very little about her. He also needs to face up to the reality of two rebellious teenage daughters and a major issue concerning the sale of a valuable parcel of land that belonged to his ancestors and which he, together with a number of his cousins, holds in trust .
Despite much critical buzz, The Descendants doesn't actually do much new. The specifics and location of the film might have changed, but the basic idea (facing up to the death of a loved one and that wider impact that has) is not so much different from other "illness" films, stretching all the way back to Debra Winger weepy Terms of Endearment. It's about someone starting to re-discover what is really important and confronting a few difficult truths about themselves and the people they love. Come the end of the film, we know that everyone is going to come out of it all this sadder, but stronger.
So, whilst it's not terribly original, The Descendants remains watchable. It finds a good balance between tragedy, drama and comedy. There are moments that will make you laugh (albeit often in a slightly uncomfortable way), ones which will make you feel sad and plenty which will satisfy the basic human need to poke unwelcome noses into the affairs of others. It's one of those films which it's difficult to ascribe to a specific genre and which probably needs a whole new term (Tragi-dramcom?) creating.
Whatever genre you squeeze it into, all the elements work very well together creating a film which, on the whole is well-balanced. Although it suffers from some slightly pedestrian pacing and obvious sub-plots it nevertheless manages to keep the viewer interested.
This is underpinned by some excellent acting from George Clooney. The role (and Clooney's involvement) is a blatant attempt at Oscar-grabbing, but it's also the sort of thing which Clooney does well. As he grows older, Clooney is starting to rely less on his film star looks and more on his undoubted acting ability. These are skills he uses to great effect in The Descendants, his every agonising decision and new revelation tearing him apart inside. It is a strong portrayal of the grieving process, as Clooney's face registers every emotion from anger to despair; desperation to acceptance. Talk of Oscars is perhaps a little over-ambitious (although it's exactly the sort of role The Academy goes for, so don't be surprised if he picks up a Golden Baldie later this month), but it's a fine performance nevertheless.
This is underpinned by two particularly strong supporting roles. Shailene Woodley is excellent as Clooney's rebellious teenage daughter, Alex. Initially, Alex is a walking cliché, a rebel without a cause and an emotional mess thanks to a secret she is keeping from her father. Yet as the film progresses, she develops as a character, showing a deeper, more mature side as she learns that she needs her father, just as he needs her. If this transition is at times a little fast and convenient, this is the fault of the script, not of Woodley. Veering between emotional rock and emotional wreck, this is another moving and convincing portrayal of impact sudden tragedy can bring.
Complementing Woodley's performance is an equally strong turn from Nick Krause as Alex's slacker boyfriend, Sid. At first, Sid appears a very lazily written character, simply there for the odd bit of comic value. Initial judgements of Sid are not positive: he comes across as an insensitive, selfish and stupid idiot. As with Alex, though, as the film progresses, he matures, showing a deeper side which takes him from being a despicable character to a likeable one; one who provides much needed emotional support and stability for Alex. It's credit to Krause that this transition is achieved despite very limited screen time (certainly when compared to Clooney and Woodley) and in convincing fashion.
Still, despite there being a lot to like, it's a long way from the perfect film. For a start, it's just too damn predictable. You know the path that Matt's character arc is going to take right from the start of the film and whilst this predictability doesn't hurt the film, neither does it set it apart from other. The ultimate resolution of the sub-plot involving the land deal will come as no surprise to anyone, unless you have never seen a Hollywood film before... and even then you won't find it too taxing to join up the dots and come up with the right answer.
It also ignores some potentially very interesting (and controversial) plotlines. Matt simply accepts that his wife's life support machines will be turned off simply because she has signed an advanced directive stating that she does not wish to receive life-sustaining treatment if her quality of life is zero. Surely this is an area worthy of consideration (and would have made for a far more interesting plot)? Yet, Matt and all his relatives simply do the cinematic equivalent of shrugging their shoulders and saying "OK" which struck me as a little odd. Being purely cynical, you could argue that this would have been a little too controversial for Hollywood tastes and might have upset the delicate flowers at The Academy, so it is simply glossed over.
Probably because it has one eye on the Oscars, The Descendants can be a little worthy and earnest at times and it's a more likeable film when it allows itself the odd moment of underplayed comedy to lighten the tone. It can also feel a rather slow-paced, as though the whole thing is running through treacle. Whilst this certainly adds to the atmosphere and gives characters time to develop, there were times when it was a little too pedestrian.
The soundtrack is also going to divide people, with almost every scene accompanied by Hawaiian music to complement the Hawaiian setting. How much this grates on you will depend on your tolerance for the guitar and yodelling style of music apparently favoured by everyone on the islands (at least if this film is to be believed). Initially, I found it quite soothing; after almost two hours, the seemingly endless variations on a theme were starting to become rather annoying.
So, despite being little more than a blatant Oscar grab, The Descendants is not actually a bad film. The thing is, it's not a great film either. It's reluctance to deal with anything new or to tackle the really controversial aspects of the plot represent something of a missed opportunity. Despite three fine central performances and much critical acclaim, I honestly don't think that The Descendants will leave much of a lasting impression on cinema history.
Director: Alexander Payne
Running time: approx. 115 minutes
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012