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.

Clooney and Lake Como – the lacklustre American

George ClooneyFor this post I’d like to review a film I watched recently that’s been on DVD for a little while, The American, starring George Clooney. Nothing new you might say, but I like to think my take on it is fresh, or at least personal to me, so here goes.

Question: you’re an up and coming director (Anton Corbijn), how do you get a A-list actor to appear in your film? Answer: show him the script (where not a great deal happens) and explain the film takes place a stone’s throw from his Italian home at Lake Como. Seal the deal by introducing him to the actress he’ll be opposite for much of the film, the achingly beautiful Violante Placido. Then you’re in business!

Ok, maybe I am being a little cynical. I am sure the fact the film was set in Italy didn’t influence Clooney one bit. That said, the sort of minimalist, gritty, European feel to the film was a good way to set the tone. It was a sort of brooding, reflective version of a Bourne film, i.e. an assassin type laying low trying to figure out who is trying to kill him, versus assassin type running around Europe trying to get his memory back, whilst trying to figure out who is trying to kill him.

The AmericanMake no mistake, I am not saying The American compares to the Bourne films in any way, other than a similarity in terms of setting the scene and the European feel. It also shares similar DNA with Hanna, the Joe Wright directed piece that was a sort of modern version of Leon. Actually, come to think of it, a lot of films have followed where Bourne has led, in terms of European setting with short, sharp Krav-maga esque fight sequences. Taken, with Liam Neeson is another example. Although I am moving off the point here, back to The American.

Did Clooney convince as an assassin who had lost his edge? I would say on occasion. Maybe he was let down by the script. In general, just not much happened, it was all fairly slow paced. Maybe that was the idea.  Keep it slow and sleepy then hit the audience with bursts of action, like Clooney chasing an assassin who has caught up with him on a moped – you cannot get more Italian than that!

I suppose, even for a film where an assassin was meant to be in hiding/laying low, most of us want to see more ruthless, assassin type behaviour. The aforementioned scene with the moped chase was short but sweet in that respect. Clooney chasing a hitman who has failed to whack him, shooting out his tyres forcing him to crash, then throttling him. It was quite bad-ass and reminded me of a scene in Out of Sight, where he has to prove he can handle himself in prison, smacking Don Cheadle’s heavy enforcer in the face with a book. ClooneySimilarly, Dusk till Dawn, one of his breakout films, introduced him with more edge, moving away from any heartthrob ER days, less Ocean’s Eleven smugness, more tattoos up his neck and tough attitude.

So, to sum up, I think The American is worth a watch if you’ve got a spare evening, but it’s not vintage Clooney, and it’s not a vintage assassin film either. Maybe a solid 3 out 5 stars. Watchable, but just not that engaging. If you want shots of pretty, picturesque Italian towns and the super sexy Violante Placido, then it’s worth a viewing!