The Descendants (2011)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):   BBBB.5

USA, 2011.  , , . Screenplay by Alexander Payne, , , based on the novel by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , Alexander Payne, .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  

Alexander Payne made audiences wait seven years for another feature following his critically acclaimed Sideways, and it was well worth every moment of anticipation. George Clooney stars in his richest performance as a Honolulu lawyer who has two huge issues to deal with at once: the enormous, undeveloped land on Kauai that his family has owned since the nineteenth century is under a trust which he supervises and is in the process of being sold to his family’s most attractive bidder, and his wife is in the hospital in a coma after a random waterskiing accident. He not only has his two wayward daughters to deal with, but also a personal crisis of his own when he discovers that his wife’s fortunes are looking grim and that, before her accident, she had been having an affair with someone else. Clooney packs up the kids and hits the road, hopping islands in an effort to find out more about the man who is his competition and, in the process, discovers his own ability to handle his children in his wife’s absence. True to the intelligence that Payne always brings to his screen experiences, the film has healthy levels of humour, pathos and introspection and balances all these elements perfectly, more perfectly than he has ever done before. Even the vistas of Hawaii are handled in more realistic fashion than movies usually manage, avoiding over-photographing the Aloha state as an impossible island paradise but allowing for its beauty to seep in between shots of stuffy hospital rooms and messy houses. While the plotting seems deceptively simple and familiar, the film’s initially rocky start (including the superfluous narration) does not seem to promise much and then, a few minutes in, something magical happens: you realize you care very deeply about these people. This is Payne’s most richly felt, emotionally piercing film yet, its sorrows so profound that they require time to absorb after viewing. Its cast is outstanding, particularly  as Clooney’s elder daughter, who is rebellious but never grating, and as a key woman in the drama who brings a surprising level of natural intensity to her scenes.

Academy Award:  Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominations: Best Picture; Best Actor (George Clooney); Best Director (Alexander Payne); Best Film Editing

Golden Globe Award:  Best Actor-Drama (George Clooney)
Nominations: Best Picture-Drama; Best Supporting Actress (Shailene Woodley); Best Director (Alexander Payne); Best Screenplay

Screen Actors Guild Award Nominations:  Outstanding Motion Picture Cast; Best Actor (George Clooney)

Toronto International Film Festival:  2011

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