After hearing good things I recently decided to watch The Descendants and was glad I did, it’s a great film. The first from writer-director Alexander Payne in eight years, his last being the brilliant Sideways.
In terms of plot, it tells the tale of wealthy Hawaiian lawyer and land baron Matt King (Clooney), who is trying to re-connect with his daughters – 17-year-old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and 10-year-old Scotty (Amara Miller) – after his wife is seriously injured in a boating accident, from which it’s unlikely she’ll recover.
Career-high performance from Clooney?
Right from the start it’s clear our George is back to his best. If he ever suffered a dip in the last few years you could argue this was The American which felt lacklustre, both in terms of his performance and the film as a whole. Incidentally, that review was one of my first blog posts.
Here, though, he goes from strength to strength in terms of performance, as Matt is required first to deal with two unruly daughters, then break the news to friends and family that his wife will never wake up. He’s then hit by a telling revelation from daughter Alexandra that drive his actions for the rest of the movie.
Payne’s middle-aged men in meltdown
Having really liked both Sideways and The Descendants, I’ve now decided I’m a fan of Alexander Payne. His films – at least those two – have a wistful, melancholic quality to them, but are sprinkled with funny, heart-warming and tender moments.
They’re also painfully well-observed, with flawed, compelling characters. From Paul Giamatti’s bitter and tortured Miles through to Clooney’s naive and wounded Matt, Payne has a knack for creating middle-aged men in meltdown.
All the praise cannot just go to Payne though, this is one of the best performances I’ve seen Clooney produce. Gone is his natural suave and poise, as he strips his character down to produce an incredibly raw, subtle and affecting performance – one that will no doubt stand out as a career highlight for years to come.