Clooney shines brighter than ever in 'The Descendants'By Walker Donaldson | 02/05/2012 11:10pm
To me, his roles are predictable: his smooth voice and dashing good looks are accentuated by an overwhelming attempt at charm that makes him contemptuous. Does this sound like jealousy? No, it should not. It is only a description of George Clooney.
After seeing “The Descendants,” I am a changed man. Clooney stars in what could be a career-defining role as Matt King, a lawyer in Hawaii who is caught up in the chaos of family affairs. King is an overworked lawyer whose neglect for his two daughters and wife becomes evident after his wife is seriously injured in a boating accident.
As King tries to grapple with his wife’s coma, he must also find common ground with his daughters, to whom he is a distant and unknown father. To compound the crises surrounding his nuclear family is a larger crisis regarding the sale of his family’s land, of which he is the head of a trust. “The Descendants” weaves a series of complex narratives, all of which reunite around common themes of family and inheritance.
To describe King as a man facing a midlife crisis would be an understatement. The audience is thrust into his life after any semblance of normalcy has been destroyed, and it can be gathered that King is on the fringes of success as a hero, slowly slipping in destruction.
His wife’s coma, coupled with infidelities in the past, become evident in a matter of moments, and he must cope with the knowledge that any structure of nuclear family he previously envisioned has now dissolved into chaos.
Clooney inherits the role of King as though it is his own reality. Any charm or wit from previous films is thrown away and replaced by a man who seems to understand the grief of King as though it were his own.
Clooney’s brilliance is only a part of the beautifully told story. The supporting characters in “The Descendants” could easily pass as members of any family, and the well-written script and acting give the audience a vehicle for compassion and frustration.
Shailene Woodley stars in her first silver screen role as King’s temperamental teenage daughter, Alex. If it were not for Clooney’s superb performance, Woodley would have stolen the show. Woodley takes Alex’s complicated family as a burden on her own shoulders and, like Clooney, takes ownership of the role as though it were her life.
“The Descendants” is both humorous and deeply saddening. The simple nuances of family life and generational separation are brilliantly illustrated in the interactions between King and his family. Towards the end of the film, King speaks to members of his family about the land they are entrusted.
“We did not do anything to own this land. It was entrusted to us,” he says. Through his simple words, King defines the film, and perhaps the audiences’ lives as well. We do not buy into the families we have, but we must accept and work with what we are given.
Runtime: 1 hr. 50 min.
MPAA Rating: R
Release Date: December 9
CW Critic’s Rating: 4 out of 4 stars