George Clooney is good! We all know that–but it is a joy to see him shine in a performance and it seems that writer/director Alexander Payne and Clooney were made for each other. The Descendants is a straight forward narrative, but Payne weaves emotions and subtleties that keep it interesting and unique.
Payne is a wonderful writer. He has this great ability to really capture a character’s voice. And all his films are slices of real people’s lives. His talent is in spinning them in a unique way. We can all relate to his stories–which why it comes across as poignant. Payne’s directing style is simple and clean and it works to keep the focus on the characters.
Another Payne trait is his use of creative settings–places we’ve heard of–but really do not know. In this case it is the islands of Hawaii. The island’s history plays a big part in the story and the islands themselves are an important and intricate character in the plot. I love when the setting becomes more than just a place for action to take place–it makes it richer. (Only negative aspect of the beautiful Hawaiian scenery was that there was a little too much a times–what is this a Terence Malick film :))
At times I felt the story dragged a bit–not enough to be boring–but just enough to feel disjointed. Yet, it succeeds because of the performances. As noted, Clooney is fantastic! As the “back-up parent” who must step up and take care of his kids and as a detached husband who must come to grips with some harsh realities about himself and his marriage–Clooney knows how to relay the range of emotions while showing restraint. He is a natural.
Another stand out performance is Shailene Woodley as the eldest daughter. Woodley has done mostly TV and I had never seen her before. She is lovely. Strong, yet vulnerable. Again, very natural and believable. I will keep an eye on this young lady.
Overall, The Descendants is fine film–well written, acted and directed–a triple threat! 😀