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Descendants, The (AF)


Stars: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Nick Krause, Patricia Hastie, Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer, Robert Forster, Amara Miller, Nick Krause

Director: Alexander Payne

As one of the (I imagine) very few who had yet to be impressed by Payne’s films (In particular I found Sideways overrated, twee and pretentious), The Descendants’ came as a welcome surprise, boasting as it does one-time Return of the Killer Tomatoes! star Clooney’s finest screen performance. A superb screen adaptation (by Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash) of Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel provides Clooney with the role of his career and he makes the most of it, playing a land baron in Hawaii desperate to reconnect with his two estranged daughters after his wife suffers a boating accident that leaves her unconscious and heading inevitably towards death.

Interestingly and very effectively, Payne doesn’t trade,Hawaii Five-O style on attractive island locations. Instead, right from the start, Clooney’s narration cynically reduces Hawaii to just another US location asking of the inhabitants , appropriately as it turns out, ‘Do they think they’re immune from life?’ and proving his point as the drama progresses.

Clooney’s rebuilding of his badly fractured relationship (“I’m the back-up parent. The understudy”) with his two daughters, amoral and misbehaving teenager Woodley and her feisty younger sister Miller makes compelling and beautifully acted viewing with the star and director avoiding an overload of clichés (both in characterization and plotting) as they slowly bond again with Woodley’s crass boyfriend Krause, who rightly deserves being punched by Clooney’s father (an excellent Forster)for shooting off his mouth, neatly summing things up with “This is a unique and dramatic situation”..

The film’s as near to a masterwork as makes no difference. Every performance – Clooney has already won a Golden Globe and the Oscar cannot be far behind – is perfectly honed and convincing, the drama never loses impact and the resolution is both right and moving.

Alan Frank

USA 2011. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox (Fox Searchlight). Colour by deluxe/FotoKem.
115 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 22 Jan 2012