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Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Descendants Review (Advanced Screening)

The Descendants Review 
2011, 115 minutes
Rated R for language including sexual references

      The Descendants is Alexander Payne's new film after a seven year hiatus from filmmaking.  Payne, director of the smash hit Oscar-winner Sideways, is known for making realistic, human dramedies.  Now this may seem cliché of independent filmmakers, which much of the time works against them, but Payne really knows how to get the right tone, reaction from his audience, and the right performances out of his actors.  And this film is no exception.  The Descendants follows a Hawaiian land baron, Matt King (George Clooney), when his wife falls into a coma and he is left to care for his two kids (played by Amara Miller and Shailene Woodly in a performance bound for an Oscar nomination).  The film hits the right tone between comedy and drama.  There are moments where you will laugh out loud and there are others where you will have tears in your eyes.  Both happened to me.
Much as I would love to elaborate on the emotions (I will later), I cannot write one more minute because I must address Clooney's performance.  This is flat-out the best work Clooney has ever done and if he does not get nominated for the Best Actor Oscar come Oscar time, I will be speechless.  In most of his films, Clooney is suave, cool, and charming.  In The Descendants he lays it all off to the side and lets raw emotions take over.  As King faces the difficult situations that any person does when they are faced with a situation such as this, he has his ups and downs.  Clooney understates his performance in many parts when King is down which benefits him greatly.  If King were too suave, he wouldn't be believable.   When hard times hit, Clooney shows it.  When happy hits, you know.  Riding the emotional ups and downs of his character,  Clooney always hits the right tone and even adds in some of his signature humor.  This is the best work he has done yet and I cannot stress how many awards he deserves for this.
      Alexander Payne, the co-writer and director of this film, should have no trouble garnering Oscar nominations for his directing and screenplay.  His work here is solid, tight, and gorgeous.  Infusing a very generic baseline story with humor and pathos, he leaves the viewer feeling for his characters and wanting to spend more time with them.  The best part of the film are the emotions that are delicately placed into the film.  Some scenes, especially one towards the end (you'll know what I'm talking about if you see it), are beyond moving and beautiful.  They will have you in tears.  Payne is on his way to becoming one of the great directors.  If he keeps up at the pace that he's going, he should be remembered in history.  
      Overall, The Descendants is a beautiful film, both in terms of visuals and story.  This is a must-see for all moviegoers and a definite Oscar contender.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I did upon its late-November release.  Please post comments below when you see this.

-Joshua Handler

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