Posted on Friday, January 27, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Movies set in Hawaii make you want to go to Hawaii. That’s just the way it is. Even if terrible things happen to those people in Hawaii, those terrible things are still happening in a beautiful setting, so wouldn’t you rather have that something terrible happen somewhere nice? At least it’s then balanced out a little bit? Right?
There are two plots at work in The Descendants, both equal in their importance to our central character and vantage point, George Clooney… I mean Matt King. The movie is not subtle about ensuring George Clooney is our protagonist and lens through which the movie is viewed. There is at least 10 minutes of voice over work from George Clooney while his character goes about the hum drum daily business of his life and spending touching moments with his wife. Totally unnecessary voice over work mind you. It doesn’t add anything to the movie except further opportunity to listen to George’s very soothing sexy voice.
Now I don’t want to ruin the movie for you, but tragedy strikes George Clooney’s Hawaiian family and he and his two daughters have to come together emotionally in order to make it through this devastating time. The fact that all of this turmoil strikes just as George is about to close a major deal that all of Hawaii is holding their breath over; the fact that it isn’t until after the tragedy that George is informed of a lot of details that make him re-think his life and more importantly is marriage, brings tension to this movie in subtle and familiar ways.
There are a lot of clichés – “Bad things happen in threes” “it’s always worst before the storm” “it’s going to get worse before it gets better” that apply in The Descendants. In some ways this film has a similar feel to another of George’s films Up in the Air. But where that movie is about a single man realizing that his life is but a single serving, we are instead given a man with a family that, while he loves them unconditionally, has drifted away without his supervision and attendance.
Oftentimes a movie is set in a particular location in order to engender a theme or general atmosphere for the emotional content. That this movie takes place in Hawaii is important. Hawaii is a prominent character in the film and has a great many things to say about itself.
There are several amazing things about this movie. For one, it is well-paced. For a standard fare drama without any action at all it comes in at just under 2 hours, and it neither feels too long, or over short. We are given exactly what we need throughout the film to keep us entertained and intrigued. And we are given a beautiful characterization of George Clooney’s 17 year old daughter, Alexandra, played by Shailene Woodley who will no doubt go on to enjoy an incredible career as an actress.
The supporting cast shines around George Clooney. This is not really a revelatory statement. George Clooney has always been extremely good at making those around him shine that much brighter from his days on tv through to Ocean’s 11.
What I’m starting to see though, is that George Clooney doesn’t become the character. George takes the character and makes him part of himself. We don’t get to see George become the character of Matt King. We are given George Clooney – just everyone else is calling him Matt King. Now that’s not a problem. Not at all. George is an understated actor who does extremely well at subtle changes in voice and manner. He is not larger than life. He is life. The fact that he can so believably make you think that the attributes of Matt King are attributes important, near and dear to George Clooney is one of the reasons that he is nominated for Best Actor this season. Deservedly so.
I recommend The Descendants. You have not seen a film exactly like this before. There are comparisons, of course, but nothing very similar.
I also recommend Soul Surfer. Shut out of the Academy Awards I felt that in some ways Soul Surfer was a braver, better film. Which says a lot about it, because The Descendants is a brilliant film.
If you take the time to see either Soul Surfer, or The Descendants, feel free to throw some virtual ink my way and let me know what you thought.
4.5 out of 5 Hawaiians approve. .5 of a Hawaiian felt that the film didn’t need the voice over work.