Heather's DVD Review: The Descendants
Is it possible for a well established actor to play against type and still succeed on-screen? That's part of the test behind the DVD release of The Descendants, which followed one such actor playing a man being put through the ringer with touching results.
The Descendants followed Hawaiian resident/attorney Matt King (George Clooney) who had a lot on his plate. He had been the sole Trustee controlling his family's hold on the last price of untouched Hawaiian land and preparing to sell it as the trust's expiration date very quickly approached. Matt also had to deal with his adventurous wife Elizabeth being hospitalized after a boating accident that put her in a permanent coma. He forced to follow his wife's final wishes and is preparing everyone in their inner circle to say goodbye before she died. That meant having to deal with his daughters Scottie (Amara Miller) and Alexandra (Shailene Woodley). As a businessman, Matt knew how to handle things perfectly, but he was lost in how to help 10 year Scottie understand everything and get the 17 year old wild child Alex to behave. Sadly, he doesn't expect for Alex to reveal that her mother was having an affair with real estate agent Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard) before her accident. Can Matt keep it together long enough to say his final goodbye or will he fall apart beforehand?
In terms of plot, The Descendants had some hefty material to sort through, but it helped that the story was superbly adapted into the Oscar Winning Screenplay that Director Alexander Payne helped co-write. It was obvious that there was a huge attention to detail in getting the location (Hawaii) and the casting just right. Payne's seven year absence from the big screen (2004's very popular Sideways) was a long one, but it helped moviegoers and critics welcome his return with open arms. Payne's directing forte has been following middle aged men going through strong personal and professional troubles as they learned to be reasonably functional human beings. Matthew Broderick and Jack Nicholson have done it previously, but Clooney seemed perfectly cast as a man in crisis who learned to accept that everything wasn't always in control. He has sacrificed his usual charming persona in the past (2005's Oscar Winning performance in Syriana), but he seemed tailor made to play Matt King. Clooney was able to display a sense of vulnerability and ended up taking some quiet acting risks that he hasn't done before, such as running down the street in boat shoes. Woodley's breakthrough performance as the angry and rebellious Alex was definitely an attention grabber to say the least. The scene where she broke down in tears under water in the family swimming pool was powerful and proved that she could do more than her work on the long running ABC Family show The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Hopefully, she'll continue to get a chance to prove her acting skills on the big and small screens. Judy Greer and Beau Bridges also had a great impact in their brief supporting roles that worked in helping the story along. It's just a shame that they weren't in more scenes, but the movie was still powerfully nonetheless.
Verdict: A role that Clooney was born to play and made Woodley someone to watch out for in the future.
DVD Score: 4 out of 5 stars
Movie Rating: R
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)