Aloha! Clooney delves deep for Descendants

the descendants clooney woodleyAfter 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.

Cosmopolis – a tedious trip for a haircut

cosmopolis-examWhat words can be used to describe how I felt about this film? Detached, alienated, nonplussed, baffled, underwhelmed. It’s a hard film to like, identify or engage with on any level.

Let’s back track for a second. Based on a Don DeLillo novel and directed by David Cronenberg, this film was always going to divide people. Not so much for extreme scenes, but because both Cronenberg and DeLillo are acquired tastes.

King of body horror
Cronenberg is known as the king of venereal or body horror, as his work – primarily his early stuff – explores people’s fear of bodily transformation or infection. Not for everyone.

I got my first taste of his style with Crash (1996). A supremely disturbing film that deals with car crash victims, sex fetishisms and scarring. Something I had to endure for the most part alone, after my friend couldn’t take any more and walked out after one freaky scene too many.

He’s perhaps toned down since those days. A History of Violence (2005) is arguably his most accessible and engaging film. Similarly A Dangerous Method (2011), another collaboration with Viggo Mortensen, was fairly well received.

robert-pattinson-hair-cut-cosmopolisDisconnected Pattinson
Robert Pattinson takes the lead in this film. In terms of career and perhaps mirroring Kristen Stewart’s strategy, Twi-hard’s favourite member of the undead has looked to gradually distance himself from the vampire franchise.

First with Water for Elephants (2011), facing off against Christopher Waltz’s evil circus owner, then a team-up for Cronenberg’s latest offering. Here he plays Eric Packer, a wealthy, young asset manager who decides to head across town in his limo for a haircut, despite the city being on alert due to a Presidential visit and protest rallies.

On the way all manner of individuals pay him visits inside the cool, calming interior of the vehicle; from business advisers discussing future strategy and other issues, through to doctors administering prostate exams.

Gradually it becomes clear that – through Packer’s interaction with these people – he’s living in a void, a vacuum, a dreamlike existence, devoid of any basic human connection and numb to the world around him. In that sense Pattinson was well cast and played the part convincingly, giving us occasional glimpses of Packer’s true nature, but mostly remaining hidden beneath a vacuous veneer of disconnection.

Cosmopolis-GiamattiCronenberg’s crazy world
Most characters – including Packer – never seem to be speaking to or even acknowledging each other during conversations. More often that not they’re allowing their innermost thoughts and musings to come out, seemingly at random.

The films builds – if you can describe it this way – to an encounter with a former employee, played by Paul Giamatti. Whilst their interaction follows a similar path to other characters Packer meets that day, Giamatti gives it sufficient bite to lift the film’s finale.

It seems that at this point, Packer’s numbness begins to wane, giving us further insight into his mindset. It’s still a big ask to engage with him as a character though, even right up to the end.

Breaking the Twi-hold
As dramas go this may sound intriguing, but in all honesty I just didn’t get it. A lot of the script was taken from DeLillo’s novel, so perhaps the wording requires a bedding-in period for the uninitiated. Maybe Cronenberg has just regressed to one of his more inaccessible phases?

Either way, Pattinson does well in the lead role and can be sure that he’s well and truly broken the hold Twilight may have held over him. Whilst this film didn’t rock my world, perhaps it was a good platform for Pattinson to push his career in a promising, new direction. Worth seeing if you’re a Cronenberg fan, but it will be a shock to the system for Twi-hards!